Folk musician Abigail Washburn has certainly raised awareness of the banjo around the world in recent years. She has collaborated with banjo great Bela Fleck, along with cellist Ben Sollee and fiddler Casey Driessen, to bring American banjo music to China. The band, known as The Sparrow Quartet, became the first US band to officially tour Tibet in the fall of 2007, at the behest of the Chinese government.
Three years after the release of her debut album, Song of the Traveling Daughter, this new self titled (after the band) sophomore recording hits the streets on May 20, 2008. The entire band, including Fleck, had a hand in the composition and arrangement of the record. Fleck produced the recording for Nettwerk Records. Washburn comments that this record was an effort to
…intentionally create art that is more than what I ever thought I was capable of. These musicians allowed me to dream big, and they had the chops to execute it all, and then some.
Featuring 13 songs, the CD stylistically spans the bridge between traditional American folk/bluegrass tunes such as Banjo Pickin’ Girl, to traditional Chinese folk songs such as Taiyang chulai (We’re Happy Under the Sun), to a number of originals written by the band for this project. The arrangements bear the marks of both American and Chinese tradition with a certain cinematic quality and even some classical sounding moments. Part of the uniqueness of the sound comes from the composition of the band itself. The quartet features two banjos, a cello and a fiddle. That combination of instrumentation, along with the diversity of musical backgrounds the four players bring to the table results in a sound that is all their own. And the results speak for themselves.
The foursome begins a North American tour Friday night with a show in Boulder, CO. This is the first of over 100 performances planned in support of the new CD. The tour includes some high-profile performances at Bonnaroo, Merlefest, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
For a complete listing of tour dates, be sure to visit them online at AbigailWashburn.com.
Audio tracks and tours dates are available on Abigail’s MySpace page as well.