Words by Nigel Williamson
As the world’s premier banjo player, Fleck has ranged across jazz, classical and world music, dramatically expanding the instrument’s repertoire and reputation in the process. Here he goes back to the style for which the banjo is perhaps best-known – down-home bluegrass picking with its roots in the back porches of Appalachia. It’s also the first album he’s recorded as a duo with his wife, a highly-respected singer-songwriter and fellow banjo player. Washburn sings in an attractive, keening voice on a set of a dozen songs that includes trad Appalachian murder ballads and original compositions by both participants. The result is a lovely record that recalls the work of the likes of Gillian Welch or the Be Good Tanyas.
The songs are accompanied solely by the couple’s numerous banjos, although you’d hardly guess it for Fleck and Washburn’s banjos produce such a rich palette of sounds that you’d swear a full string band was at work. In an interview with Songlines last year, Fleck claimed that the humble banjo is actually the world’s most richly versatile instrument. He’s biased, of course. But there’s plenty of evidence here that he may just be right.