Dear Abby: Abigail Washburn, City of Refuge
I can’t help but feel like I’m writing to an advice columnist after penning the salutation, “Dear Abby.” Ha ha! If that were the case, I would ask her how you tell a close friend that you’re exited for their new endeavors and continually impressed with the diversity of their talent, but, nonetheless realize that you’re growing apart. I hope I can do that without making things weird between us.
Abby, I still remember the first day we met. I was searching around for someone new to meet when an acquaintance suggested I cruise over to amazon.com where they thought you were hanging out. It only took a quick glance for me to be instantly smitten! Such a beautiful voice and incredible talent on display. There you were hanging out and singing with your banjo, barely a stitch of makeup, so down to earth. There was nothing the least bit glossy about you, but you still had a natural aura of humble nobility. You were playing songs from your first album, Songs of the Traveling Daughter, and I was knocked out by the combination of earthiness, grace, and charming inventiveness. When you started singing Chinese atop that jaunty clawhammer banjo, it was almost too much creativity to take! I probably came on way too strong, but you were gracious enough to let me befriend you anyhow. Man, we had some great times listening to that album, and I’m sure we’ll stay in touch to do so more in the future.
|Abigail Washburn with City of Refuge collaborator, Kai Welch|
As I got to know you better, you played me some of your work with the Sparrow Quarter. “Holy shit!” I thought. This woman is a genius. Man, I know I started wearing out my welcome begging you to play that stuff constantly. I’m sorry about my being overzealous, but I felt like you and your friends made the album I didn’t realize I was dying to hear. It was this glorious mixture of chamber music, folk songs, bluegrass, and old time. You were playing with some of my other favorite musicians, too, like Ben Sollee on cello, Casey Driessen on fiddle, and your sweetheart, Bela Fleck playing three-finger banjo alongside your frailing. Wow, that stuff was amazing! Somehow you managed to be even more inventive and playful but also timeless and brooding. I even wrote a long piece about this exciting new direction taken by you and some of your musical kindred spirits. I was eager to hear what would come next realizing your talent seemed to have no limitations.
After the Sparrow Quartet, I’d heard you made some new friends. In particular, it seems you really hit it off with Kai Welch, a talented indie-pop songwriter. I guess you guys started collaborating for your new album, City of Refuge. Hmmm…, I thought. I’m not a big fan of indie-pop, but if anyone could pull off an album of banjo-infused, folk indie-pop, I knew it would be you, Abby!
When I heard you were playing some club dates before the release, I caught a couple of your shows seeing as how we hadn’t seen each other in a while. You had that big cello banjo with you and looked all happy and radiant with your new friends. I could tell you were having a great time and following your heart. I wasn’t sure what to expect with those keyboards and electric guitars on stage. As you began playing your new tunes, I realized you had stumbled onto something people would love. It was good! Really good, in fact.
The title track to your new album sounds great with your banjo leading the song into a tasteful building of pop flourishes. I was also taken with how you wove your distinct Chinese influences into the song “Dreams of Nectar” as a gorgeous narrative about immigrants. Hearing this Chinese influence blossom into your songwriting as opposed to your singing in Mandarin was a treat. With its haunting tone, pulsing rhythms, and Chinese zither, you’ve again proven the inspired restlessness of your creativity. And, that’s Bill Frisell providing some of those guitar riffs, right? What a cool musical marriage!
I have to say, though, that some of the tunes that venture more headlong into pop find me a little less enthusiastic. Especially the only one of Kai’s tunes, “Chains,” that you guys put on the album. Don’t get me wrong, Kai seems like a great guy, but I just don’t think we have much in common. It’s a little awkward for me to hang out with the two of you at the same time, to be honest. I guess I’ve just gotten used to the girl who looks great in an old pair of jeans and a t-shirt. It seems strange to see you all dressed up in a funky new wardrobe, but I can tell you’re having a great time and are following your muse. Good for you! I’m pretty sure that you’re going to make lots and lots of new friends, and I genuinely hope you do! I’ve heard countless people talking about you, and they all seem to love what you’re doing. I guess I’m in the minority who prefer your prior work over this new pop-infused direction.
I guess I just wanted to write this letter in case I seem a little distant lately. You’re going to be so busy that you won’t have time to miss me, of course. I don’t say that with any bitterness; I’m glad to see you doing so well. In fact, I hope you don’t mind me posting this letter publicly, because I think a lot of my friends who haven’t met you will want to check out your new album even though it’s not quite my cup of tea. For those other readers, you should check out Abby’s website and find her upcoming tour dates.
Your friend always,
Dustin Ogdin is a freelance writer and journalist based in Nashville, TN. His work has been featured by MTV News, the Associated Press, and various other stops in the vast environs of the world wide web. His personal blog and home base is Ear•Tyme Music. Click below to read more and network with Dustin.