If American old-time music is about taking earlier, simpler ways of life and music-making as one’s model, Abigail Washburn has proven herself to be a bracing revelation to that tradition. She—a singing, songwriting, Illinois-born, Nashville-based clawhammer banjo player—is every bit as interested in the present and the future as she is in the past, and every bit as attuned to the global as she is to the local. She pairs venerable folk elements with far-flung sounds, and the results feel both strangely familiar and unlike anything anybody’s ever heard before. To put it another way, she changes what seems possible.
Believe it or not, you won’t find any songs in Chinese on City of Refuge. What you will find, tucked in among picked and sung modal melodies, are some songs with catchy hooks and grooves. “Burn Through” is one of them; Washburn even punctuates a line of the chorus with a playful pop nonsense phrase: “Hey, hey, hey.” The song’s sentiment is as uplifting as its sound: “It’s really supposed to be a song that makes a person feel powerful listening to it, that there’s a lot of possibilities…
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