Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn: husband and wife, parents, musicians, touring partners, and now studio duet collaborators. Rounder Records has announced today that they will release their first, and eponymous, album October 7. There will also be a second duo tour starting later this Fall.
Family relationships aside, these two are among the most visible banjo players in their respective disciplines all across the world. Fleck rose to widespread prominence in the bluegrass world with New Grass Revival in the 1980s, before breaking away and launching what has been a stunningly successful solo career, at least by bluegrass standards. Washburn made her bones as much as a singer as a banjoist, working in the old time world with Uncle Earl, and as a notable solo artist herself.
They had toured and recorded together previously as members of the Sparrow Quartet, while each continued to pursue a solo career. But everything changed with the recent birth of their son, Juno, as it does for all new parents. Neither wanted to consider leaving the newborn behind to head out on tour, so the two banjo phenoms made the obvious choice – travel together as much as possible.
A tour earlier this year was well-received, and it looks like this mommy and daddy format will be their primary performance vehicle until little Juno is a little older. He did make an appearance in an Uncle Earl reunion rehearsal video this Summer, but the current plan is for him to stay backstage on their shows.
As it was music that initially brought them together, the couple has plenty of praise for each other’s art.
“I’m a big fan of Abby’s playing,” says Béla. “I do a lot of heady music. When I play with Abby, there’s an opportunity for me to make music that hits you in a different place emotionally. That’s one of her gifts, is a pure connection to the listener, taking simpler ideas and imbuing them with a lot of personality and a point of view.”
“I come from the old-time world,” adds Abigail, “which is more about communally trancing-out on old fiddle and banjo tunes. It has very little to do with soloing or anything technical or virtuosic. So for me to try to learn Béla’s music has been a big challenge, but a wonderful one. Although I’m a very different type of player, I feel very lucky that he’s a musical mentor to me. It’s a beautiful part of our connection.”
Rounder has shared the album’s opening track, a somber version of a familiar children’s song, which they worked up to record after Béla heard Abby singing it to their son.
The Béla/Abby tour starts mid-September, and includes a show at Wide Open Bluegrass during IBMA week in Raleigh, NC. You can see the full schedule online.