Modern Times / Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn

Album cover art for upc 888072362628
Label: CONCORD JAZZ INC.
Catalog: 1166136262
Format: CD

Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn

Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn present their eponymous debut album as a duo, after many years of prominence as banjo players and composers in their own eclectic avenues. Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn is a front porch banjo and vocal album of new music, Appalachian murder ballads, gospel, chamber and blues; the culmination of a yearlong tour as a duo in 2013, following the birth of their son, Juno. Béla, an icon and innovator of jazz, classical and world, with more multi-category GRAMMY wins than any other artist (15 total), and Abigail, a formidable talent with triumphs in songwriting, theater, performance, and even Chinese diplomacy by way of banjo, turn out to be quite a fortuitous pairing with a deep, distinct and satisfying outcome. The culmination is an album like no other. The record reveals their astounding chemistry as collaborators, as the two seamlessly stitch together singular banjo sounds (through an assortment of seven banjos spanning the recording) in service to the stories that their songs tell, with no studio gimmickry needed. According to Béla, “finding a way to make every song have its own unique stamp, yet the whole project having a big cohesive sound – with only two people,” was at the core of their joint vision. Demonstrating seemingly unlimited rhythmic, tonal and melodic capabilities, Fleck and Washburn confirm the banjo’s versatility as the perfect backdrop to the rich lyrical component that Fleck and Washburn offer, “Sometimes when you add other instruments, you take away from the banjo’s being able to show all its colors, which are actually quite beautiful.” Thanks to this album, the musicians’ palette has never been more vivid or pure.Sure, in the abstract, a banjo duo might seem like a musical concept beset by limitations. But when the banjo players cast in those roles are Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck—she with the earthy sophistication of a postmodern, old-time singer-songwriter, he with the virtuosic, jazz-to-classical ingenuity of an iconic instrumentalist and composer with bluegrass roots— it’s a different matter entirely. There’s no denying that theirs is a one-of-a-kind pairing, with one-of-a-kind possibilities.Fleck and Washburn have collaborated in the past, most visibly in their Sparrow Quartet with Casey Driessen and Ben Sollee. Until last fall, though, any performances they gave as a two-piece were decidedly informal, a pickin’ party here, a benefit show at Washburn’s grandmother’s Unitarian church there. It was inevitable and eagerly anticipated by fans of tradition-tweaking acoustic fare that these partners in music and life (who married in 2009) would eventually do a full-fledged project together.

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