Brown – Fair Weather
Edelman – Drama
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.
On 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.