HOME SWEET HOME, Banjo Power Couple Makes Beautiful Music Together

bela-&-abbyHOME SWEET HOME
Banjo Power Couple Makes Beautiful Music Together
By Larry Nager 

They’re two of the banjo’s most intrepid explorers, taking their instruments beyond musical and geographic boundaries. Rooted in old-time music, she’s extended that sound to classical and rock settings, creating a new audience for the banjo with regular trips to China, communicating in Mandarin, the Chinese dialect she’s studied since she was a teenager. Starting in bluegrass, he expanded the banjo’s vocabulary into electric improvisation that found him sharing stadium stages with the Grateful Dead and Phish. From those musical outer limits, he brought the banjo back to its birth continent—Africa—traveling to remote villages to perform with traditional music masters. Back in the States, he embarked on a road even less traveled, composing and performing a classical concerto for five-string banjo and symphony orchestra. Now they’re collaborating on what may be their most perilous odyssey yet—marriage and parenthood. And there will be banjos. Lots and lots of banjos.

Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck have come home. Their son, Juno, turns two in July and they’re spending a lot more time in their house, set on the rolling hills of suburban Nashville. They’ve put a hold on solo careers to work together in an intimate, all-banjo duo that’s winning rave reviews at theaters and festivals. For Fleck, who spent much of the last quarter century leading his electric Flecktones to shatter expectations of what a banjo can do, the acoustic duo marks a return to the instrument’s pure sound that first drew him in.

“It’s funny,” he says, settling back in their family room while Juno takes his afternoon nap. “I had this conversation with Chris Thile not so long ago at RockyGrass. We’ll get into deep stuff sometimes, and he’ll go, ‘What am I doing wrong with my music?’ And I’ll go, ‘Well, here’s what I think you need to do.’ And so I said, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ And he said, ‘Well, all I can think of is you have something to offer to the acoustic music world, but you haven’t done anything for like fifteen/twenty years. And I think there’s still a place for you.’ Read entire article »

Home Sweet Home
Banjo Power Couple Makes Beautiful Music Together
By Larry Nager

Steve Mougin—Dark Shadow Recording
By Rick Lang

Rob McCoury—The 5-String Flame Thrower
By Bill Conger

Spencer Strickland—The Fourth Virginia Luither
By Lee Kotick

The Stray Birds
By Henry Koretzky

General Store
Notes & Queries
National Bluegrass Survey
Personal Appearance Calendar
Advertiser Index
Classified Ads

Subscribe today!

View IBMA 2014 Award Nominees

Bluegrass Survey

Top Album for April

Dark Shadow 201401

Top Song for April


April 2015 Reviews


THE CROWE BROTHERS FORTY YEARS OLD Mountain Fever Records MFR 141028 With the release of Forty Years Old, the Crowe Brothers, Josh and Wayne, do a nice job of straddling the line between country and bluegrass. Using bluegrass instrumentation (Wayne on bass, Josh on guitar, Steve Sutton on banjo and dojo, Brian Blaylock on mandolin, […]

Read full review »

ART ROSENBAUM’S OLD-TIME BANJO BOOK BY ART ROSENBAUM Mel Bay MB30494DP. (Mel Bay, 4 Industrial Dr., Pacific, MO 63069, www.melbay.com.) This is an exciting new book and DVD from one of the modern masters of old-time banjo. Rosenbaum is retired from the University of Georgia after a long career as an art professor. He’s widely […]

Read full review »

TURNING GROUND CELL OF MINE No Label No Number Eastern Kentucky is a place of pressure. Geologically and sociologically, the region is known for the power that comes from that pressure that makes for coal and great music. These fellows sure bring that power to their music. Racing out of the starting gate, the Arnett […]

Read full review »

SAVAGE FIDDLER METHOD BOOK AND ONLINE LESSON METHOD BY ANNIE SAVAGE No Label, No Number. (www.savagefiddler.com) This books compliments the many files found on Annie Savage’s website. There was no password included with this book, so the opportunity to view the online tools was not fully realized. Each tune is taught with the following steps. […]

Read full review »

MIKE AULDRIDGE, JERRY DOUGLAS AND ROB ICKES THREE BELLS Rounder Records 11661-35773-02    Three Bells is a fascinating album by three of the best resonator guitar players who will ever play the instrument. For Douglas and Ickes, it’s a labor of love musically, giving tribute to Auldridge for taking this unique instrument to a new level […]

Read full review »

DOYLE LAWSON & QUICKSILVER IN SESSION Mountain Home MH15732 Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver’s latest album, In Session, captures a celebrated veteran band at full power. It’s a masterful showcase of imaginative song choices, superlative harmonies, inspired vocal arrangements and powerhouse picking. The production, handled by Lawson with the assistance of recording engineer Josh Swift, is […]

Read full review »

JOHNNY WILLIAMS GOING MY WAY Mountain Road Recordings MRR-1021 Johnny Williams’ most distinctive work on this, his second solo release on Mountain Road, comes in bunches—three separate bunches. The tracks in between are fine. Those in the bunches stay with you. At track three, begins the first bunch. You can feel the shift immediately. Where […]

Read full review »

NICK HORNBUCKLE TWELVE BY TWO (PLUS OR MINUS ONE) Corvus Records CR 022            On 12×2(+/-1), Nick Hornbuckle, Washington State banjo player for John Reischman and the Jaybirds, presents a striking instrumental album showcasing his unique two-finger picking style on a thoughtful selection of mostly traditional tunes. The title refers to […]

Read full review »

DONNA HUGHES FROM THE HEART Running Dog Records RDR-03 Obviously, Donna Hughes has been busy putting pen to paper in the four years since her last album. She is releasing two records this year. One, titled Fly, has eight originals. This one has 19 to go along with covers of the old gospel standard “I’ll […]

Read full review »

CHRIS JONES AND THE NIGHT DRIVERS LIVE AT THE OLD FEED STORE GSM Records 103 Here’s a live album that gets it right. Just enough ambiance and crowd involvement so you get the experience. Instruments and voices are in balance so you hear everyone clearly. Introductions are kept to a minimum or on separate tracks […]

Read full review »

LARRY STEPHENSON BAND PULL YOUR SAVIOR IN Whysper Dream Music 7 4262 9 How appropriate that Larry Stephenson celebrates his 25th year as a bandleader by releasing his fifth all-gospel album. Stephenson always seems to put an extra something into such releases, and this one is no different in that regard. The man definitely has […]

Read full review »

SONGWRITING STRATEGIES: A 360° APPROACH—BY MARK SIMOS Berklee Press 978-0-87639-151-8. 210 pp. $22.99. (Berklee Online, 1140 Boylston St., MS-855 BM, Boston, MA 02215, www.berkleepress.com.) Now, when someone asks, “Which comes first—the melody or the words?” I can reply: Songwriting Strategies by Mark Simos comes first. That is, if what the question is really asking is, “How […]

Read full review »

BECKY BULLER ’TWEEN EARTH AND SKY Dark Shadow Recordings 114681    Becky Buller has been a regular on the bluegrass scene for over a decade now, although at times she has flown under the radar. The fact is, however, she’s a triple threat who is finally getting some much-deserved recognition with her new album ’Tween […]

Read full review »

THE KEVIN PRATER BAND WERE YOU THERE No Label No Number This is Prater’s full gospel release with a new band that includes Prater (mandolin, guitar), Tom Timberlake (banjo), Albon Clevenger (fiddle), Cole Spears (guitar), and Danny Stiltner (bass). Prater’s career with such bands as James King and Melvin Goins, as well as influential mentoring […]

Read full review »

THE CLAIRE LYNCH BAND HOLIDAY Compass Records THR4121 The test of a good Christmas recording is to find yourself able to listen to it when it arrives within a few days of Old Christmas (January 6). Just about any of them will sound good in early December. One that sounds good when your ear has […]

Read full review »

CHRIS COOLE AND IVAN ROSENBERG RETURN TO TRION Vole-O-Tone #004 This sophomore release is full of musical adventures from the fearless duo of Coole and Rosenberg from the frozen North Country. You have to keep the music hot in that clime. This Canadian duo is back after their release Farewell To Trion with an even […]

Read full review »

WAYNE TAYLOR MOVIN’ ON Raincoe Music RM-07012014 A new Wayne Taylor project is always a joy to find in the mailbox. Wayne is a prolific songwriter and this new CD is chock-full of his songs. He’s joined in the studio by Dale Ann Bradley (vocals), Emory Lester (mandolin, guitar), Rickie Simpkins (fiddle), Gaven Largent (resonator […]

Read full review »