"That song came from a very emotional, mother-driven, daughter-driven, wife-driven place, and there are not many songs throughout history from that perspective, so I am incredibly moved by her,” says Washburn, a fluent Mandarin speaker and activist known for blending the ancient sounds of America and Far East cultures.
Other highlights on Echo in the Valley include the rural blues "My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains” by Clarence Ashley and a version of Béla’s well-known piece, "Big Country,” framed by the traditional Appalachian tunes "Sally in the Garden” and "Molly Put the Kettle On.”
As the story goes, Béla and Abigail met at a square dance, started a family and have been touring the world together since 2013. Whether at home, on stage or on record, their deep bond, on top of the way their distinct musical personalities and banjo styles interact, makes theirs a partnership unlike any other on the planet.
The duo’s front-porch, minimalist aesthetic includes seven banjos between them, from Béla’s 1937 Gibson Mastertone to a banjo ukulele and a restored 1905 upright banjo bass. The intense, intimate collaboration on Echo in the Valley required "a spirit of staying strong,” says Abigail, "but also a willingness to release into the other’s ideas to create something new.”
Béla Fleck has the virtuosic, jazz-to-classical ingenuity of an iconic instrumentalist and composer with Bluegrass roots, and the distinction of being nominated in more categories than any other instrumentalist in Grammy history. He has brought the banjo to his standard-setting ensemble Béla Fleck & the Flecktones and a staggeringly broad array of musical experiments, from writing two banjo concerts (The Impostor and Juno Concerto), to exploring the banjo’s African roots with Throw Down Your Heart to duos with Chick Corea and Chris Thile.
Abigail Washburn has the earthy sophistication of a postmodern, old-time singer-songwriter who has drawn critical acclaim for her solo albums. She has also done fascinating work in folk musical diplomacy in China, presented an original theatrical production Post-American Girl, performs in a duo with guzheng master, Wu Fei and is a member of Uncle Earl and The Wu-Force.