Banjo virtuoso Brown returns with some good ol' fashioned Celtic bluegrass jazz fusion...
Peter Marsh 2005
Like the viola, the bodhran, the hurdy gurdyand the accordion, the banjo has been ano ften much maligned instrument, particularly amongst musicians.A s Mason Williams sang; "Them banjo pickers, them poker faced mugs. They never do smile, they just play Scruggs".
Though the recent bluegrass revival has done a little to rehabilitate the poor old banjo, it takes players of the calibre of Alison Brown to take things up a level and prove that it's not all 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown' and 200 mph clawpicking. Though Brown spent time in Alison Krauss's band and was voted International Bluegrass Music Association Banjo Player of the Year in 1991, her own music is a much more eclectic affair.
This album (her fourth solo effort)kicks off with "The Sound of Summer Running", an airy, jazz inflected piece that hints at what's to come. "The Pirate Queen" has more than a hint of Pat Metheny about it; Brown offers a perfectly formed, economicalsolo in between Stuart Duncan's elegant fiddle phrases. It says a lot for Brown's ability that none of this stylistic fence sitting sounds forced; she even manages to rearrange a Gregorian chant into a sweet slice of Celtic jazz fusion.
Similarly, she makes the trickiest phrases sound effortless (check "McIntyre Heads South" and the"Going to Glasgow" medley for details - you won't believe a banjo can sound like that). Less successful are the vocal tracks - Beth Nielsen Chapman reduces Hendrix's "Angel" to a colourless dirge, while it's debatable that the world needs another version of Paul Simon's "Homeward Bound". However Andrea Zonn's reading of Bill Keith and Jim Rooney's "One Morning in May" isa beauty, and Mary Chapin Carpenter gives Boo Hewerdine's "Prayer Wheel" a bit of emotional clout.
Alison Brown is a musician with that rare combination of ability, taste and sensitivity. And (in case you'd forgotten)she plays the banjo.So, the next time someone asks you what the difference is between a banjo and a trampoline, play them this album. That'll shut them up, believe me.