Review : Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet - Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet
PastemagazineBridging musical worlds can be a challenge (I'm looking at you, Pat Boone's In a Metal Mood...), but Nashville-based songstress Abigail Washburn pulls it off with aplomb (sans leather vests, thankfully) on her new self-titled album with the Sparrow Quartet. Washburn blends the banjo-laden bluegrass of her native Appalachia with Chinese folk music, and the resulting sound is fresh and surprisingly cohesive.
It doesn't hurt that Washburn is joined by her fellow Sparrows, an all-star cast comprising Béla Fleck on banjo, Casey Driessen on violin and Ben Sollee on cello. Together, they combine Eastern sounds with bluegrass, a fusion that never sounds forced—surprising, yes, but fluid and often strangely appropriate.
Washburn's vocals are similarly multifaceted She channels Joan Osbourne on "Strange Things," then reminds us that she's a country gal on up-tempo album highlight "Banjo Pickin' Girl."
"Sugar and Pie," a track near the album's end, offers up Chinese lyrics sung sweetly over vaguely Eastern banjo chords. When the Sparrow Quartet joins in for an instrumental free-for-all near the song's conclusion, the result is a distinct sound that has its feet in two worlds. For Washburn, that's a familiar stance....full text
SpikemagazinePeriod pieces from banjo-player Washburn, assisted ably by the always-underfoot-somewhere Bela Fleck and the well-heeled fiddle of Casey Driessen. If you can’t wait for this week’s episode of Deadwood to end so you can dig on the Stephen Foster-era truthiness during the end credits, this is the thing you want, and Washburn’s voice often has a user-friendly Annie Hayden/Lisa Loeb quality that makes it kinda sexy in an awkward way when you can get the thoughts of Bonnie Raitt out of your head. NPR eggheads to a fault, this bunch can probably be found busking around town prior to whatever coffee shop or world symposium is supporting their granola habit that week, not to ignore the fact that their bubbly-busy tuneage is intensely soulful and probably a lot more relaxing than whatever’s passing for chill around your homestead at the moment....full text
WearsthetrousersIt has been two years since this clawhammer banjo-playing Appalachian folk singer released her debut album Song Of The Traveling Daughter, which transformed her from a budding Sino-American lawyer in China to an all-American bluegrass star with an award-winning band. It all started when Washburn came to the attention of 10-time Grammy Award winner and banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck after coming in as second place runner-up at a songwriting contest held at a bluegrass festival in North Carolina. He agreed to produce Song Of The Traveling Daughter and, later, recruited Kentucky cellist Ben Sollee and Grammy-nominated fiddle player Casey Driessen for Washburn’s 2005 Sparrow Quartet EP, from which the band took their name. With Fleck’s unique banjo style, Sollee’s innovation on the cello and Driessen’s country pedigree, a whole new depth of talent is evident on the Quartet’s self-titled release.
The album opens with the sleek ‘Overture’, a clever instrumental medley of the songs to come, simply dazzling in its seamless, well polished transitions and amazing musicianship, complete with Washburn’s remarkable yodel. Moving straight into ‘A Fuller Wine’, the familiar banjo finger-picking and rapid Appalachian rhythms set the scene for Washburn’s strong and rootsy vocals, but it soon establishes a more unsettling ambience: the pace of the rhythm, the sweeping, moody cello and dashes of fiddle are intricately combined, but never outplay the singer’s purposeful vocals. The progression from Song Of The Traveling Daughter is remarkable and Washburn clearly revels in the finer details of these more evocative compositions.
‘Strange Things’ is another startling example of the Quartet’s skills. Starting out simply with just voice and banjo, it is gradually reinforced by echo-like strings that suddenly creep in to colour the song and vanish just as quickly, before ultimately evolving into a strong, train-like rhythm that momentarily breaks to allow Washburn’s haunted vocal some freedom. Increasingly urgent playing leads to a brilliant instrumental climax with Washburn’s voice shimmering with unusual theatricality as she huskily instructs that we “do as my guy commands”. And so on, with one immaculately played song after another....full text
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