a bit too laid back for me
nice banjo pickin'
only thing I liked was Last Train.
terrible audio on the included clip, but not much available

Grade - 1.4

released Jan 11th, 2011

from the album - Bring Me My Queen - grade 1.5


from all music


The rustic, wide-ranging sounds of singer/songwriter Abigail Washburn appear so genuine and natural, they must come from a person who grew up surrounded by folk and bluegrass. The way Washburn developed her style is much more complicated, however, as it involves China, lost banjos, and the rock group Collective Soul. Although Washburn grew up singing, she had no desire to become a professional musician, and part-time gigs as a backup vocalist in reggae, gospel, and R&B bands were nothing more than fun activities. But a trip to China in 1996 changed all that. Picking up the native language faster than she imagined and falling in love with Chinese culture, the young Washburn began to change her priorities. Reconsidering the culture of her own homeland, she bought a banjo and decided to explore the rich heritage of folk and bluegrass music. Mastery of the instrument didn't happen right away, and fans of Washburn's banjo style might be shocked to learn she went years without even touching the instrument. Later, she was living in Vermont and working as an activist when her good friends the Cleary Brothers lost their banjo player after scheduling a tour of Alaska. Blowing the dust off her banjo, Washburn began a crash course in playing the instrument, eventually joined the Cleary Brothers, and was soon off on her first tour.

Performing in front of an audience fit like a glove, and soon Washburn was assuming lead vocals as well. With the tour completed, Nashville was the budding musician's next stop. While living there, she continued her banjo studies and began to write songs. In 2004, she met Jing Li Jurca, who would help her write her first song in Chinese, as well as K.C. Groves, a founding member of the old-timey string band Uncle Earl. Washburn joined the second incarnation of Uncle Earl and appeared on the band's 2005 album, She Waits for Night. Keeping her solo options open, Washburn then entered her song "Rockabye Dixie" into the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest. The tune took second place and attracted the attention of Nettwerk Records. After signing with the label, Washburn played a mini-tour of China before returning home to record her debut with such accomplished musicians as Béla Fleck, Jordan McConnell of the Duhks, and Ryan Hoyle of Collective Soul. The resulting Song of the Traveling Daughter appeared in 2005, and Washburn returned to the Asian continent to tour as part of the Sparrow Quartet (which also comprised Fleck, fiddle virtuoso Casey Driessen, and cellist Ben Sollee). The U.S. government sponsored the tour, making Washburn the first musical artist to receive such an honor. The Sparrow Quartet joined her on the trip, and the group explored a blend of Eastern and Western folk traditions on their 2008 effort, Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet. In January of 2011, Washburn released her third effort, issued on Rounder, entitled City of Refuge, was produced by Tucker Martine (who also played drums on the set). The set featured a slew of guests including Bill Frisell, Jeremy Kittel, Viktor Krauss, and Kenny Malone, to name a few.

Album Review

City of Refuge, the ambitious third album by singer, songwriter, and banjoist Abigail Washburn, extends the reach of both the stripped-down roots sounds on Song of the Traveling Daughter and the more musically exploratory Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet. She’s been seasoned by continually playing with stellar musicians and opening herself to musical traditions from those of the Deep South and the British Isles to folk traditions from Asia, jazz, and rock. This set showcases her singing and lyrics up front. Produced and mixed by Tucker Martine, City of Refuge boasts an extensive and impressive list of players and singers -- including Bill Frisell, Jeremy Kittel, Viktor Krauss, guzheng master Wu Fei, and Kai Welch, to name a few. In Martine, Washburn found the perfect collaborator: he understands implicitly how far-reaching her songs are; he assists her in cracking wide the conventions of traditions while showcasing their influence with reverence and grace. The title track opens with her clawhammer banjo-style playing “old-time mountain music,” but quickly shape-shifts through country gospel, folk-blues, open droning tones, and shimmering rock. The orchestration on the heartbreaking “Bring Me My Queen” is spacious with lilting piano; Kittel’s fiddle provides soft textural elements that let Washburn's voice articulate the deeply poetic lyric. Rayna Gellert's fiddle, Frisell's electric guitar, and a pedal steel adorn “Last Train,” as Washburn and Welch harmonize the loneliness of loss and longing in her lyric. “Burn Thru” opens with what seems like a coda with an orchestral lushness that almost reaches a crescendo before it all disappears, just before Washburn, backed by acoustic guitars and her banjo, declares her resilience and her ability to transcend: “There’s shadows in my tracks/I’m not lookin’ back at the rest of you...I’m not goin’ down with the rest of you.” The musical abstraction and sheer beauty on City of Refuge is born out best on “Dreams of Nectar.” Its root is an a cappella Appalachian ballad, but before long, Wu Fei’s dreamy guzheng (a zither-like instrument) enters, and is layered upon by a humming choir, chirping birds, and even tempered brass instruments. Yet, even as the elements gel, they slowly dissolve into a gauzy haze, leaving the listener in reverie -- which is shattered by the stomping country gospel of “Divine Bell.” The set closes with the haunting “Bright Morning Stars,” a hymn that contains choir drones resembling the chanted throat-sung prayers of Tibetan monks. City of Refuge reveals that Abigail Washburn has grown exponentially as an artist. She's created a visionary American music that extends its traditions as it embraces others, free of borderlines. City of Refuge shines from West to East, from South to North -- and beyond.

Track Listing

1 Prelude Traditional 0:52
2 City of Refuge Wallace, Washburn 3:42
3 Bring Me My Queen Kai Welch, Washburn 4:14
4 Chains Hans, Kai Welch 3:51
5 Ballad of Treason Kai Welch, Washburn 3:07
6 Last Train Kai Welch, Washburn 3:55
7 Burn Thru Kai Welch, Washburn 4:26
8 Corner Girl Washburn 3:24
9 Dreams of Nectar Kai Welch, Washburn 5:51
10 Divine Bell Secor, Washburn 2:38
11 Bright Morning Stars Traditional 4:40