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Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet

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Album Review

In 2004, Abigail Washburn became the first American musician to tour Tibet on the U.S. government's dime. Joined by the remaining members of her accomplished Sparrow Quartet — banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck, cellist Ben Sollee, and fiddle player Casey Driessen — Washburn served as a sort of artistic ambassador to the region, introducing Tibetan audiences to American music while absorbing Asian influences at the same time. This resulting album bridges the gap between those traditions, offering up an unorthodox brand of folk music that combines the old-timey strains of Uncle Earl (Washburn's previous group) with Eastern scales, Chinese lyrics, and a double-scoop of twangy banjo. It's a record that will seem vaguely foreign to any listener, but the Sparrow Quartet seems to thrive on those eccentricities, since some of the group's strongest performances coincide with the oddest musical pairings. The bandmates draw inspiration from Chinese folk ("Taiyang Chulai"), American gospel ("Captain"), vintage string bands ("Banjo Pickin' Girl"), field recordings, and Kazakh melodies, with the banjo interplay of Washburn and Fleck stitching the entire mixture together. Washburn's vocals are confident and soulful in a light, airy way, but it's the music that truly stands out here, as the four musicians know when to tone down their virtuosity and simply play with each other. Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet is simple at points, complex at others, and tuneful throughout, which helps ground the whole globetrotting project.

Customer Reviews

A Banjo Pickin', Pipa Stylin' work of Art

Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet deliver.
They deliver stellar playing, creative songs, and a fusion of two unlikely characters; American roots playing and Chinese melodic content. With all-stars like Béla Fleck and Casey Driessen adding distinct flavor, and cellist Ben Sollee rounding out the style, the group brings talented playing and creative song stylings.
"A Fuller Wine" delivers a sentimental story with unfolding banjo lines and great vocals that draw the listener in, as does "Oh Me, Oh My". "Strange Things" has a blues feel performed with impact while "Great Big Wall In China" delivers whimsy interjected with dramatic staccatos and at times hints of a Prairie hoedown, more directly found in "Banjo Pickin' Girl". "Taiyang Chulai" offers a true fusion of styles with banjos playing a pipa-like melody and lyrics sung in Chinese... it is this song that ultimately pulled me into this album.
If you are a fan of, or new to Abigail Washburn's music, this album is a must-have.

4 and a half stars

I love Abigail! I love her voice and the music on this album. However, for me, the Chinese lyrics kind of ruined it a little bit. Of course, this has to do with my own personal taste. She sings the words beautifully, and the music behind them is great! But it just doesn't fit right to my ears. Still like listening, though :)


A new sound. Exciting vision by some very talented artists. Nothing to get bored about. And her voice! Celestial yet soulful.


Genre: Dance

Abigail Washburn is a clawhammer-style banjo player and singer who blends folk and bluegrass tradition with an impressively global worldview. A fluent speaker of Mandarin, Washburn credits her years spent in China after college with her increased interest in the musical history and culture of her native United States. Along with her tenure in the all-female old-time quartet Uncle Earl, Washburn also fronts her own band, Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet, featuring...
Full Bio
Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet, Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet
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Customer Ratings