City of Refuge
For her latest solo album, clawhammer banjo player Washburn made the conscious decision to leave her East-West folk smashups for a more indie-pop sound. The list of musicians helping her is amazing and eclectic: MMJ’s Carl Broemel, Chinese guzheng master Wu Fei, jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor and Morgan Jahnig, and Mongolian string band Hanggai, among others. But to make this jam delicious, she made her best decision by employing producer Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, Spoon, Sufjan Stevens), who finds room in the arrangements for these artists to add their masterful, ambient touches without over-orchestrating the songs, which are pretty great already. Washburn’s fine voice, somewhere topside of a smoky Tift Merritt, is the centerpiece that harmonizes with the surrounding train, and her sweeping stories of emotional and spiritual growth connect on every level. I wish a bonus disc had been included with just the lead and background vocal tracks — that would be something stellar.