Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck to Release Debut Album

Banjo-playing couple tackles murder ballads and gospel on October release

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn
Stephen J. Cohen, Getty Images
Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn perform together in Louisville, Kentucky.
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The family that picks together sticks together.

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Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck have been trading banjo riffs since 2005, when both joined the left-field folk band Sparrow Quartet. Now, after a decade of shared gigs and five years of marriage, the two have announced plans for their first album as a duo.

Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn hits stores on October 7. In contrast with the Sparrow Quartet's 2008 release, which combined bluegrass music with Chinese lyrics and Tibetan influences, the self-titled album will focus on Appalachian murder ballads, gospel tunes, blues and other traditions from the American Bible Belt. The couple's cover of "And I Am Born to Die" pays tribute to the late Doc Watson, who famously recorded the hymn with fiddler Gaither Carlton, while "Pretty Polly" tips its hat to another husband-and-wife duo, E.C. and Orna Ball. Many of the other songs are carryovers from Fleck and Washburn's national tour in 2013, which found the pair traveling the country with their two banjos, a catalog of new tunes and a brand-new addition to the family: 15-month old son Juno Fleck.

Rounder Records, who originally worked with Washburn on her acclaimed solo record, City of Refuge, in 2011, will release the album. Anyone expecting cameos from family friends (and Sparrow Quartet members) like Casey Driessen and Ben Sollee is bound to be disappointed, though, since Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn is strictly a family affair.

"We didn't want any other instruments on there, because we're into this idea that we're banjo players, and that should be enough," Fleck said in a statement. "Sometimes, when you add other instruments, you take away from the ability of the banjo to show all its colors, which are actually quite beautiful."

Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck Tour dates:

September 17  — Derry, New Hampshire, Stockbridge Theater

September 18  — Brownfield, Maine, the Stone Mountain Arts Center

September 20 — Plymouth, New Hampshire, the Flying Monkey

September 21  — North Adams, Massachusetts,  FreshGrass

October 3  — Raleigh, North Carolina,  Wide Open Bluegrass

October 5  — San Francisco, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

October 12 — Charleston, South Carolina,  Southern Ground Music Festival 

October 17 — Mobile, Alabama, Saenger Theatre

October 18  — Live Oak, Florida, Magnolia Fest  

October 19 — Black Mountain, North Carolina, Lake Eden Arts Festival 

October 22  — Markham, Ontario, Flato Markham Theatre

October 23  — Rutland, Vermont, Paramount Theatre

October 24  — Troy, New York, Troy Savings Bank Music Hall

October 25  — Frederick, Maryland, Weinberg Center for the Arts

October 28 — Kutztown, Pennsylvania, Schaeffer Auditorium

October 29  — New York City, Symphony Space

October 30  — Cambridge, Massachusetts, Sanders Theatre

October 31  — Washington, DC, Lisner Auditorium (with Del McCoury & David Grisman)

November 1  — Porland, Maine, Merrill Auditorium (with Del McCoury Band)

November 8  — Nashville,  TBA

November 28-29 — San Francisco, SF Jazz Center Miner Auditorium

January 16  — Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Strings Music Festival

January 17 — Grand Junction, Colorado, Avalon Theatre

January 19 — Beaver Creek, Colorado, Vilar Performing Arts Center

January 20 — Durango, Colorado, Community Concert Hall

February 20 — Springfield, Illinois  Sangamon Auditorium

February 21 — Naperville, Illinois  Wentz Concert Hall

February 22 — Green Bay, Wisconsin, Weidner Center

April 11 — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Lecture Hall

April 12 New Bedford, MA  Zeiterion Performing Arts Center