The Compass Points Up

AR-alison brown.jpgAllison Brown - Fair Weather


Judith Edelman - Drama Queen

Banjo players get a bad rap. Entire Websites are dedicated to nothing but banjo jokes. Some banjo masters like Bela Fleck and Peter Wernick do get respect. With her release, Fair Weather, Alison Brown demonstrates that she too is among these banjo elite. She's also the only world-class banjo player with an MBA and her own record company. Some of her other achievements include being a member of Alison Kraus' band "Union Station" for three years, Michelle Shocked's bandleader in the early '90s, and the International Bluegrass Music Association's "Banjo Player of the Year" in 1991.

Fair Weather features top echelon players including Sam Bush, Mike Marshall, Tim O'Brien, and Matt Flinner on mandolin, Bela Fleck on banjo, Jerry Douglas on dobro, David Grier, Vince Gill, and Tony Rice on guitars, Stuart Duncan and Darol Anger on fiddle, Todd Phillips, Gene Libbea, and Missy Raines on bass, and Claire Lynch, Vince Gill, Tim O'Brien, and Sam Bush on vocals. While a majority of the selections are instrumentals, a few tunes with lyrics like "Everybody's Talkin'" by Fred Neil, and "Fair Weather" by Steve Libbea sneak in.

I thought so much of this CD's sonics that I played it for my mentor, J. Gordon Holt, founder of Stereophile. He marveled at how natural it sounded. Recording engineer Dave Sinko and mastering engineer Randy Leroy show they are among a precious handful of folks who know how to properly record acoustic music. If bluegrass with a large dollop of newgrass appeals to you, "Fair Weather" should be on your essential playlist.

Another Compass records artist worthy of your attention is Judith Edelman. Her music is closer to folk than bluegrass, but her sidemen are all bluegrass veterans. The final result is that the music has a rustic edge combined with copious melodious hooks and bridges.

AR-judith.jpgOn Drama Queen her accompanists include her now ex-husband, Matt Flinner, on mandolin, Ron De La Vega on cello, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Rob Ickes on dobro, Lex Price on bass, and Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott on harmony vocals. They combine to make a tight musical unit that sounds as if they've been playing together for years instead of days.

Once more I can only marvel at Compass Record's "house sound."  It seems that Compass has figured out how to record acoustic-based music without squishing it into a homogenized mess. Again Randy Leroy did the mastering. Be forewarned, after spending some time with this CD you'll find it harder to accept the mediocre recordings. Like most Compass Records releases, Drama Queen makes stereo systems smile.

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