Friday, April 08, 2016
Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn
Fleck is a world-renowned musician, who is well known to cognoscenti if not the masses. Washburn is the vocalist on the album, and she has a lovely voice that reminds me of Shawn Colvin. Together they have made a very pleasing record, one that you will enjoy depending on that world--banjo.
The banjo is an instrument, like the bagpipes, I guess, that has both its enthusiasts and detractors. I am of the opinion that listening to banjo music automatically lifts the spirits, even if the song its playing is something of a downer. It was an instrument that came over from Africa, but has since been appropriated by white Appalachians, and is almost always associated with hillbilly music, such as the Flatt & Scruggs theme from The Beverly Hillbillies. In fact, Fleck was inspired to take up the banjo after hearing that music.
But is this folk music? I think most people associate folk music with acoustic guitars, coffee houses, and berets, and the banjo with bluegrass. The Grammys also have an "Americana" category, which this album could fall into. There are many traditional American songs here, including "Railroad," which we all learned in school as "I've Been Working on the Railroad." When we sang it in school, it was up-tempo, but here it's in a minor key, and I think that's a right choice as if I were working on the railroad, all the live-long day, I'd be tired and angry. They also incorporate a little "Oh, Susanna" in there for good measure.
There are a few instrumentals, written by Fleck, and a few songs written by Washburn, including "Shotgun Blues," a murder ballad that has the woman with the one with the gun:
"If I had a shotgun
And you were in the woods
I'd hunt you down and tell you
You're no good."
Fleck has a song called "What'cha Gonna Do" that suggests an old song about the levees breaking, etc. but could apply now to climate change:
"The land is broke, skies are too
What'cha gonna do, what'cha gonna do
Too late for runnin' when it comes for you
When the land goes under the water."
Whether or not this is truly folk music, I liked it quite a bit. It makes me wish I could play the banjo.