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Alison Brown

Live at Blair (CD/DVD) – 2010 (Compass)

Reviewed by Larry Stephens

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CDs by Alison Brown

Recorded live at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music, the Alison Brown Quartet offers up a delightful mix of jazz and Irish-based folk music. Beginning with a nationwide tour of contests and festivals at age 16 with fiddler Stuart Duncan, Brown moved on to play with Alison Krauss and Michelle Shocked before forming her own group that includes husband and bassist Garry West. The two of them founded Compass Records. They are joined here (and often at shows) by Joe Craven, a multi-instrument virtuoso.

This is offered as a DVD/CD and is as good a show of acoustic music you're likely to see anywhere. With Brown on banjo and guitar, West on electric bass, Craven on mandolin and fiddle and band mates John R. Burr and Larry Atamanuik on piano and drums respectively, they roll through a catalogue of work composed or arranged primarily by Brown.

The Magnificent Seven is a fast, driving number that shows off Brown's finesse on the banjo and Craven's fiddling skills. Deep Gap demonstrates Brown's guitar flat-picking skill on a song that is reminiscent (at least when Brown is playing) of Chet Atkins. Being able to see her play is a big plus and illustrates she is an excellent guitar picker, not just a banjo player who picked up a guitar (think Buck Trent). She finger-picks the guitar on My Favorite Marsha and, again, this is guitar picking, not just a carryover from her banjo.

Unless you're a Django Reinhardt fan (Hungaria) you're not likely to recognize the song titles. If you're a bluegrass fan and all you heard was banjo; this isn't Reno or Scruggs. If you like easy listening, intricate music, you can't make a better choice.