My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: The Flecktones

Album Review: Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn

belafleckI have always liked the banjo, though during most of my lifetime it has been treated as primarily a bluegrass instrument and relegated to red-headed stepchild status as far as mainstream country was concerned. It made something of a comeback in the early 2000s when bluegrass enjoyed a surge in popularity. In recent years, it’s been given a higher profile than it used to, but it’s mainly been used to lend some credibility to music that otherwise does not sound country. However, husband and wife team Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn have taken banjo playing to a whole new level with their new collection of banjo tunes. No other instruments are used on the self-titled album, which is not a really a bluegrass album as I’d originally thought, relying more on Appalachian folk with a bit of gospel, blues and country thrown into the mix.

Both Fleck and Washburn are considered banjo virtuosos but they have divergent styles; Fleck is known for his intricate picking while Washburn plays clawhammer style. The two styles mesh very well with each other and with Washburn’s crystalline vocals. The final product is suprisingly eclectic, considering that only one type of instrument and one lead vocalist are featured. The twelve tracks consist of a number of traditional and contemporary songs, ranging from murder ballads and folk tunes to some of the duo’s original compositions. It opens with “Railroad”, an updated version of “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad”, with the familiar lyrics and somewhat different melody and arrangement from what we’re accustomed to hearing. The grim “Pretty Polly”, in which a young woman is led to her death by her jilted would-be lover, is one of the album’s standout tracks, as is “Shotgun Blues”, a Celtic-flavored Washburn original which takes the opposite approach — this time the woman is the wronged party and she’s hell-bent on revenge. Two songs from the Bible belt — “And Am I Born To Die” and “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today”, showcase Washburn’s voice nicely. In between these numbers are the occasional instrumental pieces such as “Banjo, Banjo” and “New South Africa”, both written by Fleck. The latter is a remake of a recording he made with his former band The Flecktones.

A stripped-down, banjo-only album such as this is not everyone’s cup of tea but it is one of the most creative and innovative works I’ve heard in quite some time. I highly recommend it and hope that Fleck and Washburn will release more albums like this in the future.

Grade: A