Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn have announced their new album, Echo in the Valley, for release on October 20, 2017 (Rounder), a deep exploration of the complexities of the banjo duet. Its the followup to their acclaimed, self-titled duo debut that earned them the 2016 Grammy for Best Folk Album.
As Béla and Abigail (both solo and together) have a fine history of putting out hi-res releases at 96/24 and 44.1/24, we here at HRAC expect Echo in the Valley to follow suit.
“The banjo is a great example of how the world can combine things and create surprising hybrids,” reflects Béla, a 15-time Grammy award winner who is often considered the world’s premier banjo player. “The story of this African instrument and its music coming to the Americas during slavery years, mixing with the other cultures that were here, constantly evolving through the centuries is absolutely fascinating! Without the banjo, we wouldn’t have blues, jazz, or bluegrass music, to name just a few.”
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.
“That song came from a very emotional, mother-driven, daughter-driven, wife-driven place, and there are not many songs throughout history from that perspective, so I am incredibly moved by her,” says Washburn, a fluent Mandarin speaker and activist known for blending the ancient sounds of America and Far East cultures.
Other highlights on Echo in the Valley include the rural blues “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains” by Clarence Ashley and a version of Béla’s well-known piece, “Big Country,” framed by the traditional Appalachian tunes “Sally in the Garden” and “Molly Put the Kettle On.”
As the story goes, Béla and Abigail met at a square dance, started a family, and have been touring the world together since 2013. Whether at home, on stage or on record, their deep bond, on top of the way their distinct musical personalities and banjo styles interact, makes theirs a unique partnership.
The duo’s front-porch, minimalist aesthetic includes seven banjos between them, from Béla’s 1937 Gibson Mastertone to a banjo ukulele and a restored 1905 upright banjo bass. The intense, intimate collaboration on Echo in the Valley required “a spirit of staying strong,” says Abigail, “but also a willingness to release into the other’s ideas to create something new.”
Béla Fleck has the virtuosic, jazz-to-classical ingenuity of an iconic instrumentalist and composer with Bluegrass roots, and the distinction of being nominated in more categories than any other instrumentalist in Grammy history. He has brought the banjo to his standard-setting ensemble Béla Fleck & The Flecktones and a staggeringly broad array of musical experiments, from writing two banjo concerts (The Impostor and Juno Concerto), to exploring the banjo’s African roots with Throw Down Your Heart to duos with Chick Corea and Chris Thile.
Abigail Washburn has the earthy sophistication of a postmodern, old-time singer-songwriter who has drawn critical acclaim for her solo albums. She has also done fascinating work in folk musical diplomacy in China, presented an original theatrical production Post-American Girl, performs in a duo with guzheng master, Wu Fei, and is a member of Uncle Earl and The Wu-Force.
Echo in the Valley is available for preorder here.
Sept 7 Fort Collins, CO Lincoln Center
Sept 8 Steamboat Springs, CO Strings Music Festival
Sept 30 Franklin, NC Smokey Mountain Performing Arts Center
Oct 3 Nashville, TN The Basement
Round Home benefit for Linden Waldorf School
Oct 7 San Francisco, CA Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival
Oct 28 Louisville, KY KCD Theater
Nov 2 Kent, OH The Kent Stage