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Abigail Washburn City Of Refuge Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

An original, accessible and highly recommended purchase.

David Quantick 2011

A member of all-women banjo and traditional music group Uncle Earl (they call themselves, rather distressingly, the g’Earls), Abigail Washburn is married to the most revered banjo player alive, Béla Fleck. Despite these anchors deep in the Oh Brother! Thou Art Another Bluegrass Player! tradition, Washburn is a brilliant solo artist who uses her instrumental talents to make, not scrangly-doodle mountain man tunes (which’d be fine), but extraordinary and hard to describe but easy to like music of considerable originality.

Using a small band with pedal steel, fiddle and, yes, banjo, Washburn’s second solo album proper is a determined and intense collection with tunes a cat could whistle, if that’s what cats did. Lyrically, things are a long way from country hoedowns – "I was at ease with the socialite graces," she reassures us fairly early on – and there’s inventive use of the studio which fans of Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens and other acts who’ve eschewed the clichés of both folk and rock to make high quality music will enjoy.

Washburn has a proper voice and a proper view of the world, and is an extremely effective writer. Songs like the title-track, Last Train and Ballad of Treason hint at a new traditionalist world, but musically owe more to Washburn’s sheer inventiveness than a stifling past. Contrariwise, one of the best songs here is deeply traditional in its opening lines – "The first day I set foot in this fair country" – but is called, surreally, Dreams of Nectar, and builds slowly into a kind of folk Spiritualized epic. An original, accessible and highly recommended purchase.

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