Abigail Washburn and her musicians have created a beautiful tapestry of sounds, blending original music with sounds from Abigails jopurneys to China and beyond. I was lucky enough to be at one of the "get -to gethers" when she and her band performed last week in the UK. She sang off mike several times- it was spell binding. I would recommend this albumn to anyone who appreciates an original banjo musician weaving her magic with melodies , which will have you humming along to them way after the music has stopped!
This wonderful album by banjo-player Abigail Washburn, released in January, dipped under my radar, I am, therefore, very happy to have found her now. 'City Of Refuge' deserves to be heard by anyone who has time for good music. Ms Washburn plays her chosen instrument with consummate artistry and posesses a really lovely voice. The brief 'Prelude' and ten songs in the collection have no need of flash and clutter to win us over. Their economy and strong melodic character belies a sound musical intelligence which knows how to tell a good story as well as spin a good tune. The bluegrass roots of her muse marry tradition and contemporary flair with a fresh pair of ears and easy charm.
Take a song like 'Ballad Of Treason', which sports a splendid string and brass arrangement framing some nifty chord changes and truly elegant vocal harmonies. Ms Washburn's voice floats in the ether like an angel. 'Bring Me My Queen', dances hand in hand with the spirit of Emmylou Harris in a slow and stately composition whose warmth would doubtless keep the cold winds from the door in the winter months ahead and 'Dreams Of Nectar', with its gently hummed backing vocals sways to and fro like a small wooden boat floating on the still surface of a sparkling Appalachian Mountain lake. The melancholy narrative of 'Corner Girl' is another enchanting invention (perhaps the album's finest moment). The interplay between banjo, strings and Ms Washburn's plaintive vocals conjures the very essence of loneliness. With the jaunty 'Devine (sic) Bell' we discover that she also has a lighter side to her character (cowboy gospel at its most persuasive) and final track 'Bright Morning Stars', with its distant pealing church bells and sublimely realised vocal cadences, brings the album to a haunting and affecting close.
'City Of Refuge' is a delightfully understated but truly precious gem.
I downloaded this album having seen the lady perform on a Sky Arts programme from the Cambridge Folk Festival. She makes the banjo sound so cool I feel very tempted to go in and grab one every time I go near a musical instrument shop. The album is a genre busting mix of bluegrass, folk, gospel and,yes, Chinese music. Ms Washburn actually sings in Chinese on one track. The production is subtle and interesting, often suggesting a natural correspondence between western and oriental sounds. The songs are classy with intriguing lyrics (certainly the English ones anyway!), not obvious or cliched but not pretentious either, the vocals pleasant and tuneful. You'll certainly love this if you're into people such as Alison Krauss or Gillian Welch but I would actually recommend it to anybody who would like to explore interesting stuff with an original twist.