She’s well on her way to becoming a vocal and banjo legend – and in more than just the world of bluegrass – and with good reason. After all, her virtuosity on the banjo is enough to convince many a listener that Abigail Washburn could make a broom get up and sing. Her rich vocals stand up with the best female singers country, folk and roots music have to offer. She’s come up working with some of the best musicians on the scene today, among them her now-husband, the celebrated banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, and through her work with the bands Uncle Earl and the Sparrow Quartet she has staked out her place with the confidence that comes of having supreme belief in and love for one’s music.
Another reason to love Abigail Washburn is her adventurous musical spirit. Coming to Appalachian music as an outsider and a bit of an experimentalist, she shows flexibility and a singular gift for juxtaposing traditional bluegrass with horns or orchestral strings in delightful and surprising ways. In particular, Washburn has nursed a long-standing fascination with Chinese culture since she first spent time in that country in the mid-90s, and for years has been exploring ways of braiding Chinese melodies, lyrics, aesthetics and intonation together with the sounds of Western roots music. The results of that exploration are on spectacular display in her latest release, The City of Refuge, where ‘mainstream’ folk offerings are served up alongside some of the richest East-meets-West sonic palettes in recent memory.