Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
bigail Washburn does not stand still. Washburn was in the excellent bluegrass/rootsy outfit Uncle Earl until 1-½ years ago, but that was not her only gig. She also played with Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet along with recording a benefit album in China after an earthquake there.
And she adopted a different format over the course of 2 sets and 100 minutes this evening as well - a chunk of it rootsy, but some not quite fitting any particular genre. What category do you place a song sung in Chinese? The song (the title is long, in Chinese and does not roll off the tip of the tongue unless Washburn is introducing it) merged Chinese and western sounds and was not really a surprise given Washburn's love of China. She visits at least month every year there, both touring and visiting friends from when she lived there.
Washburn spent a chunk of time playing songs from an upcoming CD, "City of Refuge," due out in January. The CD is all recorded with a label about to be picked. Even though this was the first time probably most fans heard the songs, that did not prove to be a problem.
The new material couldn't quite be called catchy given Washburn's musical inclinations, but they were certainly accessible. Washburn exuded sufficient emotion with her somewhat fragile, sometimes breathy (Nobody's Fault But Mine) voice (that's not a bad thing) to make the audience listen intently.
Washburn is known for her banjo work, and she was superb on the instrument, but she did not overplay it either. Washburn played a few other instruments as well including cello banjo on Bring Me My Queen. She was ably backed by recent sidekick Kai Welch on guitar. He helped write songs and offered a lot of vocals in concert, including lead on Sentimental Queens, where he played harp. Welch was no wallflower, making his presence felt in a very positive way. Fellow band members Drummer Jamie Dick, fiddler Rob Hecht and upright bassist Jared Engel played their roles just fine.
Washburn may stay on the move, but where she stood on this night was an artist making warm, diverse music from a musician with lots of chops.