Bridging musical worlds can be a challenge (I'm looking at you, Pat Boone's In a Metal Mood...), but Nashville-based songstress Abigail Washburn pulls it off with aplomb (sans leather vests, thankfully) on her new self-titled album with the Sparrow Quartet. Washburn blends the banjo-laden bluegrass of her native Appalachia with Chinese folk music, and the resulting sound is fresh and surprisingly cohesive.
It doesn't hurt that Washburn is joined by her fellow Sparrows, an all-star cast comprising Béla Fleck on banjo, Casey Driessen on violin and Ben Sollee on cello. Together, they combine Eastern sounds with bluegrass, a fusion that never sounds forced—surprising, yes, but fluid and often strangely appropriate.
Washburn's vocals are similarly multifaceted She channels Joan Osbourne on "Strange Things," then reminds us that she's a country gal on up-tempo album highlight "Banjo Pickin' Girl."
"Sugar and Pie," a track near the album's end, offers up Chinese lyrics sung sweetly over vaguely Eastern banjo chords. When the Sparrow Quartet joins in for an instrumental free-for-all near the song's conclusion, the result is a distinct sound that has its feet in two worlds. For Washburn, that's a familiar stance.