Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Viper at the Virgin’s Feet
Allison Brown

Clear-voiced singer and songwriter Allison Brown – who should not to be confused with Alison Brown, the Nashville-based banjo virtuoso – spent several years hosting a folk music radio program (an activity I know something about) on CHRW in London, Ontario. Listening to Viper at the Virgin’s Feet, her second CD, it is rather obvious that she’s listened to a lot of great music and has let the timelessness of traditional music and generations of great artists inform her own songwriting and her wise choice to balance her repertoire with well-chosen traditional and contemporary folksongs.

Allison has a particular affinity for gospel music, an influence that you can hear with some subtlety in “All the Birds,” the original song that kicks off the CD, and more overtly in “Something Holy,” an original that she sings with the skill of a veteran bluegrass singer. She also applies that bluegrass approach to a fine version of “In My Time of Dying,” an African American gospel song from the repertoire of Josh White that Bob Dylan did on his first album. She also does a fine medley that moves from the white gospel tradition on “Uncloudy Day” to the black gospel tradition on “Evenin’ Train.”

My two favourite tracks on the CD are Allison’s versions of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho & Lefty” and Iris DeMent’s “Our Town.” Both of these songs have had several classic interpretations and her versions stand tall among them. Producer David Essig’s lead guitar work and Rick Scott’s harmony vocals on “Pancho & Lefty” are a perfect touch. Her take on “Our Town,” to my mind DeMent’s best song, is simply lovely.

--Mike Regenstreif

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