A Musical Melting Pot With Banjo

The Company You Keep (Compass Records)
Alison Brown

By Steve Morgan

She's a Harvard grad with an MBA from UCLA who has served stints as both an investment banker and a member Alison Krauss' Union Station. She was named Banjo Player of the Year by the IBMA in 1991, and scored a Grammy ten years later. In 1994, she and her husband founded Nashville's Compass Records. Plus, she's a mother of two.

Needless to say, Alison Brown's talent portfolio is well-diversified. And that seems the perfect way to describe her band, and her latest release, The Company You Keep.

First off, this is not a bluegrass CD. Even though there is a banjo on the cover, bluegrass is but a sliver of what is happening on this album. In fact, Brown's longtime ensemble of John Burr (piano), Joe Craven (mandolin, fiddle, & percussion) and husband Garry West (bass), along with several notable guests, have crafted a record which draws just as freely from rock and jazz as it does from bluegrass.

Fans of Bela Fleck will immediately be drawn to the odd-metered groove of the album's opening track "Crazy Ivan." Nickel Creek lovers will gravitate to to the haunting, nearly vocal, interplay between Brown's banjo and guest Stuart Duncan's fiddle on "Rocket Summer."

Songs like "Under the Wire" and "The Road West" probably lean heaviest on traditional bluegrass sounds, but each share complex forms and movements similar to New Grass Revival's work. The record is really all over the map, but manages to remain thematic and focused throughout.

Alison Brown and crew have managed to explore and neatly incorporate so many elements from so many musical styles into this record, it defies categorization. That being said, it brilliantly balances familiarity and oddity just enough to remain appealing to almost anyone.

Do yourself favor and pick up The Company You Keep. It should be part of any well-diversified portfolio.

Get more than just banjo at alisonbrown.net.