Echo In The Valley (Rounder)

Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn

Released October 20, 2017

DownBeat Four-and-a-Half-Star Review




Co-written by Fleck and Washburn with wild re-imaginings of Appalachian music, Echo in the Valley is a reflection of the times, from the emphatic mantra “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” to “Come All You Coal Miners,” written from the point of view of coal miner advocate Sarah Ogan Gunning. “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.

Track Listing:

1. Over the Divide (Béla Fleck / Abigail Washburn) 03:04

2. Take Me to Harlan (Béla Fleck / Abigail Washburn) 04:07

3. Let It Go (Béla Fleck / Abigail Washburn) 03:58

4. Don’t Let It Bring You Down (Béla Fleck / Abigail Washburn) 03:27

5. Sally in the Garden/Big Country/Molly Put the Kettle On (Béla Fleck / Traditional / Abigail Washburn) 07:39

6. My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains (Thomas Ashley / Béla Fleck / Abigail Washburn) 04:44

7. Hello Friend (Béla Fleck / Abigail Washburn) 03:13

8. If I Could Talk to a Younger Me (Béla Fleck / Luke Reynolds / Abigail Washburn) 03:22

9. On This Winding Road (Béla Fleck / Abigail Washburn) 03:19

10. Come All You Coal Miners (Sarah Ogan Gunning) 03:53

11. Bloomin’ Rose (Béla Fleck / Abigail Washburn) 05:45


Béla Fleck: banjos and vocals

Abigail Washburn: banjos and vocals

Recorded at Sanctuary Studios, Nashville, Tennessee, United States

Produced by Béla Fleck

Recording Engineer: Richard Battaglia

Mastering: Richard Dodd

Photography: Jim McGuire

Graphic design: Jimmy Hole


With nothing more than a couple of banjos, Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn have pulled off something close to miraculous with Echo In The Valley. Of course, there’s more involved here than the instruments; the heart of the project is this husband-wife team’s virtuosity and vision. Speaking generally, Fleck is the revolutionary, the greatest innovator within this legacy since Earl Scruggs. Washburn stands a little closer to tradition; although it’s difficult to be sure without a video complement to these tracks, she seems not to venture too far outside of harmonic structure or slide in and out of adventurous single lines during solos. Which is not to say that her contributions are secondary in any way. First of all, she sings all the lead vocals, sticking close to the tune rather than stretching out. But by simply singing the words and the tune, Washburn, like all the best who draw from folk performance practice, consistently invests each lyric with interpretive meaning. This gives both players room to create instrumental backdrops that manage to be explosively inventive and unobtrusive at the same time. This is especially true on the more metrically varied compositions, such as “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” which begins in 5/4, switches to one bar of 4/4 and later goes into 7. It all flows smoothly, thanks in part to the constant presence of the tonic as the chords move. Echo In The Valley is to bluegrass as Charlie Parker was to New Orleans in the ’20s: respectful of its roots, untethered in its ambitions and triumphant in bringing it all together.

Bob Doerschuk (DownBeat)