On first listen I had my reservation about City Of Refuge; and not unlike her last album (Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet) I was about to make too hasty a judgement of the music of innovative banjo playing singer-songwriter Abigail Washburn. Now that would have been to my great loss. Reason being her music grows on you and it still is, despite countless plays plus there was seeing her and her band play live recently. Washburn is an amazing talent as is splendidly underlined here. For City Of Refuge is steeped in wonderful playing, and not only have her banjo work but of percussion, guitar, piano and pump organ (Kai Welch). As much as anything it is the build up of momentum that really shook me and became of an addictive order. As on the restless, ever-moving title cut ‘City Of Refuge’. I could not stop myself playing it again and again. Her time learning Mandarin have paid off too as
Of a similar five-star rating I forward the gospel blessed ‘Divine Bell’ (written with Ketch Secor from the band, Old Crow Medicine Show) as fiddle, great vocal harmonies, upright bass and acoustic guitar partner the deceptively strong lead vocals of Washburn. Made like the old recordings, simple and spare it vies as the album’s best track (I so love the Eastern European gypsy-like influence) so effective is the sound and performance of Washburn and her band and this isn’t an isolated case since there is also a genuine magic to the songs ‘Last Train’ and ‘Burn Thru’ with its rambling banjo, piano and a general air of adventure coupled with her claw-hammer chopping on a number of tracks —it sees the listener whisked away on one journey after another. I can’t wait for Washburn to make another recording because she is one of the most creative and engaging talents on the scene. I can see her writing a film score before too long.
As her closing piece she performs with Welch on harmony vocals a cappella fashion on ‘Bright Morning Star’ who, had a great bearing on the music of the album having co-written a handful of the songs. Adding to the joy of the piece the lonesome fiddle (Rayna Gellert) tagged on the final segment lends another aspect of grace and brilliance to the piece. A traditional song, it comes from the singing of Virginia vocalist, Ginny Hawker (go check her out because alongside Hazel Dickens with whom she has recorded one of the best traditional singers of country, gospel etc...around) and with Washburn’s help the song is unlikely to die out for a good while yet!
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