Alison Brown with Joe Craven
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2008, Volume 15, #12
Written by John Metzger
Wed December 17, 2008, 06:30 AM CST
There aren’t very many banjo pickers these days who, of their own accord, are able to maintain a sizeable following. Although Bela Fleck undeniably has achieved the greatest name recognition, Compass Records’ founder Alison Brown likely runs a close second. For a time, she provided support to both Alison Krauss and Michelle Shocked. Since embarking upon a solo career, however, she has followed Fleck’s progressive-minded trajectory quite closely. Not only does she have a penchant for bending rock songs by the likes of Elvis Costello and Jimi Hendrix to suit her needs, but she also envelopes her bluegrass-based material in an assortment of loose, jazz-oriented textures.
For whatever reason, it has been several years since Brown has issued an album of new material. Her latest set Evergreen is meant, perhaps, to serve as a reintroduction to her fleet-footed style. With the help of multi-instrumentalist Joe Craven, a longtime associate of David Grisman, Brown runs through an assortment of holiday classics, some old and some new. To keep them fresh, she smashes tunes together — Carol of the Bells and We Three Kings, for example, become Carol and the Kings, while Two Santas was braided from Here Comes Santa Claus and Santa Claus Is Coming to Town — and the shape-shifting beauty of the works that result from her efforts functions on multiple levels.
On occasion, the silken piano accompaniments of John R. Burr climb majestically out from the churning fray of the acoustic instrumentation. Overall, however, Evergreen largely is a showcase for Brown and Craven, and they make their casual conversation count. Throughout the set, they playfully toss melodies back and forth, and with each iteration, they mutate them enough to keep Evergreen entertaining for those who wish to follow the intricacies of their interplay closely. At the same time, their easy-going approach also allows the collection to slip gently into the background without requiring much thought.
In fact, there are only two places where Brown errs on Evergreen: when vocalists from the University School of Nashville augment Christmas Time Is Here and play the role of Whoville Whos on Welcome Christmas. In both cases, the vocal arrangements mimic the original renditions too closely, and they undermine the improvisational flair that the rest of the endeavor embraces. Aside from these missteps, Evergreen is a warm and imaginative musical adventure that burns with the quiet intensity of a candlelit Christmas Eve. ˝
Of Further Interest...
Evergreen is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box