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Friday, May 17, 2024

Record Routine: married banjo stars marry many genres on new banjo showcase

It’s hard to believe an album of two banjos, one voice and no other instruments could keep a listener captivated for its 45-minute endurance, but musical duo Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn make it look effortless on their first self-titled album, Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn. The married couple’s first collaboration together combines Washurn’s traditional folk stylings with Fleck’s Grammy-winning crossover genres—diffusing the banjo into jazz, blues, classical and funk. The track list contains both original pieces and unique covers and classics.

The album opens with a bluesy take on an American folk classic. “Railroad” had me hooked at my very first listen—one of my favorite childhood songs with an amazing dueling banjos instrumental and Washburn’s ominous vocals makes for a fantastic first track.

The next track, “Ride to U," has a very modern singer-songwriter vibe to it. The nostalgic love song has a beautiful string melody, but the focus is very much on Washburn’s lyrics. This track gives a bit of insight on the growing potential of mainstream bluegrass and banjo playing in general.

The duo doesn’t just play around with old folk tunes and cute love songs. Fleck’s original “What’cha Gonna Do” is a cry for change in today’s society in the growing problem with pollution and lack of sustainability. The instrumentals on this track are incredibly dissonant in a perfectly fitting desperate, passionate and, quite frankly, pissed off tone.

Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn is an interesting mix of sweet, folky serenades (“Little Birdie," “Pretty Polly”), murderous revenge plots (“Shotgun Blues”), thoughtful and gorgeously scored instrumentals (“New South Africa," “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?”) and country classics (“Banjo Banjo," “Bye Bye Baby Blues”). Fleck & Washburn themselves prove there is a real universality to the banjo, melding it into various genres and creating unique, captivating music that keeps you wanting more.

Rating: B+

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