Compass Points Up
Review by Steven Stone
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CD: Compass Records 7 4292 2 & 7 4293 2
Banjo players get a bad rap. Entire Websites are dedicated to nothing but banjo jokes. Some banjo masters like Bela Fleck and Peter Wernick do get respect. With her latest release
Fair Weather, Alison Brown demonstrates that she too is among the banjo elite. She's the only world-class banjo player with an MBA and her own record company. Some of her other achievements include being a member of Alison Kraus' band "Union Station" for three years, Michelle Shocked's bandleader in the early '90s, and the International Bluegrass Music Association's "Banjo Player of the Year" in 1991.
Fair Weather features top echelon players including Sam Bush, Mike Marshall, Tim O'Brien, and Matt Flinner on mandolin, Bela Fleck on banjo, Jerry Douglas on
dobro, David Grier, Vince Gill, and Tony Rice on guitars, Stuart Duncan and Darol Anger on fiddle, Todd Phillips, Gene
Libbea, and Missy Raines on bass, and Claire Lynch, Vince Gill, Tim O'Brien, and Sam Bush on vocals. While a majority of the selections are instrumentals, a few tunes with lyrics like "Everybody's Talkin'" by Fred Neil, and "Fair Weather" by Steve Libbea sneak in.
This CD is sonically fantastic. I played it for my mentor, J. Gordon Holt, founder of the first audiophile magazine
Stereophile. He marveled at how natural it sounds. Recording engineer Dave Sinko and mastering engineer Randy Leroy show they are among a precious handful of folks who know how to properly record acoustic music. If bluegrass with a large dollop of newgrass appeals to you,
Fair Weather won't get far from your CD player.
Another Compass Records artist just put out her third release on the label
titled Drama Queen. Judith Edelman is a frightfully talented singer-songwriter whose work deserves a wider audience. The music is closer to folk than bluegrass, but her sidemen are all bluegrass veterans. The final result is that the music has a rustic edge plus melodious hooks and bridges.
Accompanists include her husband, Matt Flinner, on mandolin, Ron De La Vega on cello, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Rob Ickes on
dobro, Lex Price on bass, and Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott on harmony vocals.
Once more I can only marvel at Compass Record's "house sound". It seems that they've figured out how to record acoustic-based music without squishing it into a compressed mess. Again Randy Leroy did the mastering. After spending some time with this CD you'll find it harder to accept the mediocre sonic swill that passes for the average commercial release nowadays.
Sound Quality: 95
Sound Quality: 95