The banjo pluck on opener "The Sound of Summer Running" recalls the credit song from HBO's profane Western series "Deadwood," but that's as gritty as Alison Brown gets on Stolen Moments, the eighth album of her 15-year solo career. The majority of Moments is instrumental, using Brown's banjo-work as a foundation for smooth jazz-reminiscent piano leads, subtle mandolin flourishes and the occasional low whistle.
The innovative banjo picking of New Yorker Bèla Fleck impacts Brown's playing, as she can make her instrument sound like a harp ("Angel," one of the album's strongest tracks) and even a human voice ("The Pirate Queen"). But having come of age in Alison Krauss 'Union Station group, Brown also understands the banjo's importance as counterpoint — rarely does her playing actually dominate a song; it's typically a melodic catalyst and buttress, roles that require extreme skill.
The guest vocalists on Stolen Moments are all excellent. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls sing a relaxed cover of Paul Simon's "Homeward Bound"; legendary songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman leads the aforementioned "Angel"; and fellow Compass artist Andrea Zonn provides "One Morning in May" with a tender, warbling touch. For those into Alison Krauss 'vein of contemporary bluegrass, Stolen Moments will feel like a familiar embrace.