CD reviews: Washburn, Stone: Now playing in Aspen and on disc
produced by Tucker Martine (Rounder)In her Sparrow Quartet, Abigail Washburn was relatively easy to describe – that singer-banjoist who crossed Appalachian and Chinese styles. But “City of Refuge” is solo Washburn; any Chinese elements have faded to the background to make room for other ideas; and the music is harder to pigeonhole. Here, the 31-year-old is working with an enormous palette; collaborators (I count 22 of them, not including the 15-voice choir) range from jazz guitarist Bill Frisell to fiddler Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show to the throat-singing duo Yiliqi and Batubagen from China’s Hanggai Band. There are a lot of bridges to cross, and “City of Refuge” manages them all. It sounds full and rich but never too busy, as Washburn – along with producer Martine, who has worked with the Decemberists and Sufjan Stevens – carefully sculpt a precise structure for each song. And Washburn’s voice, a combination of down-home sweetness and cosmopolitan smoke, accommodates it all.Abigail Washburn performs Feb. 22 at the Wheeler Opera House.
produced by David Travers-SmithToronto-bred, Boulder-based banjoist Jayme Stone moves in somewhat of the opposite direction as Washburn; Stone takes an explicit tour of other lands. (Interestingly, one of his sidemen here, fiddler Casey Driessen, was a member of Washburn’s Sparrow Quartet.) “Room of Wonders” is inspired by folk dances from around the globe. Most of the album is Stone’s arrangements of traditional dance tunes, from Bulgaria, Ireland, Norway, Germany and Sweden (with one foray into Appalachia, the fiddle tune “Ways of the World”). Despite those wanderings, the lively album is well-integrated, as Stone works with a small cast – guitarist Grant Gordy and bassist Greg Garrison, in addition to Stone and Driessen – with only brief appearances of guest horn players, accordionists and Olov Johansson on the nyckelharpa, a Swedish keyed fiddle.Lovers of string music are put on alert: Stone has a free show in Aspen next week.Jayme Stone performs an aprs-ski gig on Feb. 5 at the Limelight Lodge.
produced by Tucker Martine & the Decemberists (Capitol)Portland, Ore. quintet might properly be called a folk group – but not if “folk” suggests a simple approach to music. The band, led by singer-songwriter Colin Meloy, took its name from an 1825 uprising in Russia, and the songs often derive from historical events and inspirations. Their last album, 2009’s “The Hazards of Love,” was a song suite built around a unified narrative and based on old English folk tunes.For “The King Is Dead,” the Decemberists chose to go more straightforward, but all things are relative. This “exercise in restraint,” as Meloy calls it, is nevertheless full of characters, wonderful olde language (“anon,” “plinth,” “dowager”), and phrases like “Queen of supply-side bonhomie bone drab.” Musically, you might call it stripped down, but the references run from the Jayhawks to the Band, Bruce Springsteen to traditional country and bluegrass. (Acoustic icon Gillian Welch sings back-up on seven tunes.) The biggest touchstone is R.E.M., whose guitarist Peter Buck plays on three tracks here, and at times it can seem like the Decemberists are paying tribute to R.E.M. But mostly there are songs – the rocking “Down By the Water,” the touching “Dear Avery” – that strike a balance between ambition and simplicity.
Big Head Blues Club produced by Chris Goldsmith (Ryko/Big Records); and Gregg Allman produced by T Bone Burnett (Rounder)For their 1997 album “Beautiful World,” Colorado’s Big Head Todd and the Monsters recorded a version of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom.” It was happenstance: Hooker was working in the same California studio, Big Head Todd was inspired by his presence, and Hooker ended up adding vocals to the track.”100 Years of Robert Johnson” is a more intentional endeavor. Big Head Todd and the Monsters celebrate the 100th anniversary of the quintessential bluesman Robert Johnson with a full-length, guest-filled album. Singer-guitarist Todd Park Mohr, whose playing has never ventured too far from the blues, shows he could well have been a full-on blues player, digging into such oft-covered tunes as “Come in My Kitchen,” “All My Love Is In Vain” and “Kind Hearted Woman” and giving them a fresh ride. “Crossroad Blues,” with B.B. King on guitar and vocals, is a highlight. Also joining in are harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite, guitarist Hubert Sumlin and singer Ruthie Foster.Gregg Allman – another blues enthusiast who moved toward the rock side – also reveals his love for ancient blues. The form is straight-up blues; the songs are likewise vintage: Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman,” Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” the traditional “Rolling Stone.” But Allman, playing acoustic guitar and Hammond B-3 organ, surrounds himself with a band that pushes the music forward: pianist Dr. John, guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, bassist Dennis Crouch and drummer Jay Bellerose. They, plus producer Burnett, assure that “Low Country Blues” gives a deep, soulful spin on blues. As for Allman, his voice isn’t especially strong – he recently had a liver transplant – but he does sound as if he’s got the blues.
produced by Lee Townsend (Eone)Guitarist Bill Frisell is a musician I’d follow wherever he leads. Hooking up here with Brazilian-born singer-percussionist-acoustic guitarist Vinicius Canturia, what I’m following is a romantic, laid-back, avant-garde stroll through the contemporary Latin landscape. Canturia sings in Spanish, Portuguese and English; Frisell responds with an equally wide-ranging vocabulary of guitar tones. “Lgrimas Mexicanas” translates as Mexican tears, but I find nothing sad here – just email@example.com
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