Album Reviews

Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn

Echo in the Valley

Artist:     Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn

Album:     Echo in the Valley

Label:     New Rounder

Release Date:     11.20.2017  

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Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn have released the follow-up album to their debut, Echo in the Valley. This time around, the mission was to take their double banjo combination of three-finger and clawhammer styles to the next level, and find things to do together that they had not done before. The result is fascinating, especially considering their strict rules for recording: all sounds must be created by the two of them, the only instruments used are banjos, and they must be able to perform every recorded song live. Co-written by Fleck and Washburn with wild re-imaginings of Appalachian music, Echo in the Valley is a reflection of the times, from the emphatic mantra “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” to “Come All You Coal Miners,” written from the point of view of coal miner advocate Sarah Ogan Gunning. The duo’s front-porch/minimalist aesthetic includes seven banjos between them, from Béla’s 1937 Gibson Mastertone to a banjo ukulele and a massive, restored 1905 upright banjo bass. With one eye on using the banjo to showcase America’s rich heritage and the other pulling the noble instrument from its most familiar arena into new and unique realm, Echo in the Valley is a wildly innovative and beautiful body of art.

Both Fleck and Washburn have spent time in China and Tibet and this sneaks into the music. Also, Fleck is renowned for his bluegrass jazz and other innovations, and has spent time in Africa, the ancestral home of the banjo. Combine that with his wife Washburn’s beautiful roots voice and the sound is a true fusion of sounds and styles. “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” is a fine example of this fusion. With Washburn singing a bluesy melody and playing a fretless banjo that brings in the sounds of the East and Africa. The vocal harmonies are a nice touch, but the playing is really the star here, the duet is simply amazing. Both have the ability to transform the music to a level that speaks directly to the soul.

Echo in the Valley is full of beautiful playing, singing and interesting songs. It magical to hear the mixture of sound coming from the various banjos and all the different styles and rhythms involved in album. Echo in the Valley will keep you totally interested every second of every song.

—Sylvannia Garutch

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