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Abigail Washburn

City of Refuge – 2011 (Rounder)

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

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CDs by Abigail Washburn

Well known in the folk/acoustic world for melding Appalachian old time music with ancient Chinese folk, Abigail Washburn's work with Uncle Earl and the Sparrow Quartet is nonetheless scant preparation for the scope of her latest project. "Afterquake," an album of folky electronica she put together after the 2009 Chinese earthquake with Chinese-American DJ and producer Dave Liang, may be a better indicator of the expansive, multi-genre mindset at work here.

The cast of musical characters is impressive, to say the least, with Rayna Gellert of Uncle Earl, Jeremy Kittell of Turtle Island String Quartet, Chris Funk of The Decemberists, guitarist Bill Frisell and more making contributions throughout.

More atmospheric indie folk than anything else, the songs here are like old photos one scans in and posts online - the methodology is both contemporary and archaic at the same time, with U2-like swooshes introducing insistent acoustic guitar and banjo interplay that is supplanted in turn by piano and timpani-style drumming.

Closer in tone and style to Patty Griffin than Hazel Dickens, Washburn sings, "I ain't no prophet, I got no horn to blow" on "Burn Through," a Springsteen-like near-anthem that's typical of the kind of genre-defying material Washburn has come up with this time out. She may not consider herself prophetic but like Elijah, Washburn knows where her powers come from - the music, in her case. "City of Refuge," then, calls down the fire on anyone still worried about genres and pigeonholing true artists inside them.