When it comes to music, the past has no meaning because all music is timeless. Ostensibly you might see a date printed on a record sleeve or label but all that does is tell you when music was recorded. The essence of the music, the magical stuff that’s lay dormant in the grooves, well, that never ages and it’s only the simple act of playing it to make it live again.
Abigail Washburn has just released a long playing record that’s she’s named ‘City of Refuge’ which you should go out now and buy from your local independent record shop. It doesn’t really matter what you’re into, pop, reggae, soul, blues, even indie rock; you should exchange your money for this little beauty for no other reason that every time you put in your CD slot to unlock its charms, it will make your day.
Abigail Washburn’s instrument of choice is the banjo and she’s a practitioner of the claw hammer style of playing. I have to confess that that means nothing to me, but when she picks up her banjo to play, the sounds that come from it are fantastic. If that wasn’t enough, she also possesses an effortlessly beautiful voice that’s strong and fearless and seeming able to sing any words placed in front of it. I know this because last night I witnessed her put on a blinding display to a captivated crowed at the Band on the Wall in Manchester. She was assisted by Kai Welch, an insanely talented musician who flits with consummate ease between playing the keyboard or acoustic guitar, or even, on occasion, a muted trumpet. However Kai Welsh doesn’t let this wealth of talent dominate proceedings, but rather uses his skills to embellish Abigail’s banjo playing with subtle touches of colour.
It’s plane to see that Abigail Washburn is a passionate performer and has a genuine affinity with all the material she performs. Each song, whether it be one of the treasures from her new LP, a powerful rendering of a gospel or a riotous jazz number, are all treated with equal love and care, and both these wonderful musicians work hard to get to the very heart of the songs. Breaking the performance into two halves with a break of ten minutes of so to separate them, the duo delivers elegant interpretations of songs old and new, though when they’re laid side-by-side it’s hard to know which is which. For her only encore Abigail Washburn returns to play her final song of the evening, the traditional blues classic ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ and somehow she manages to make it sound as alive today, as I’m sure it was when Blind Willie Johnson was first recorded it.
As I said when I began, when it comes to music, the past has no meaning because all music is timeless. I offer Abigail Washburn as proof.
Review/photos by Phil King