The Company You Keep
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2009, Volume 16, #4
Written by John Metzger
Mon April 27, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
Issued just a few, short months ago, Evergreen dutifully delivered the message that Alison Brown was back in business. Although the collection was marred by the addition of several misguided vocal chorales, the playful fluidity of its instrumental passages perfectly captured the irresistibly gleeful spirit of the holiday season. Accompanied by the same merry band of instrumentalists, Brown wields her freewheeling style in a fashion that is even more effective on her latest offering The Company You Keep. As a result, she successfully has parlayed 15 years of experience into a career-defining set.
There is no doubt that Brown and her accompanists are virtuoso performers, and throughout The Company You Keep, she and her entourage ó which includes pianist John R. Burr, bass player Garry West, and multi-instrumentalist Joe Craven ó make no bones about proving their worth. A close examination of any of the endeavorís tracks reveals the ensembleís unspoken chemistry as well as the technical proficiency of each of the projectís participants. Brown and Burr take turns crisply and cleanly tossing scalar progressions against the galloping rhythm of The Road West, while collectively, the outfit deftly navigates the tricky time signatures of Crazy Ivan.
Nevertheless, where many artists attempting similar feats would sound roundly academic in their pursuits, Brown and her backing band traverse their heady, jazz-tinged fare with genuine aplomb. As it effortlessly winds its way through the mostly original material that fills The Company You Keep, the ensemble divests itself from any semblance of theoretical posturing in order to conjure an array of moods, styles, and textures that are as accessible as they are wonderfully perplexing. The aggressive lurching of Crazy Ivan conveys a sense of jittery nervousness, while Over Nine Waves is a smooth-sailing ride across the open sea. Elsewhere, the outfit colors the Celtic-tinged Rain or Shine with its exploratory gestures, and it basks in the tropical heat that filters through the traditional Forky on the Water.
Repeatedly, over the course of The Company You Keep, the rolling, skipping patterns that Brown coaxes from her banjo collectively lead her outfit deeper into the material. Just as often, however, she is willing to cede control to Burr, Craven, or fiddler Stuart Duncan, allowing them to carry the load for a while. Although the outfit shades its songs with instrumentation that is suited primarily for a bluegrass band, the music it creates is tied more closely to the realms of jazz and blues. With The Company You Keep, Brown has ushered another freewheeling showcase to fruition, though this time, it comes together so naturally that even those who arenít already in awe of her fleet-fingered abilities will have to pay attention.
Of Further Interest...
The Company You Keep is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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