Banjoists Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn are set to the host the International Bluegrass Music Association awards in September. Their presence on stage signals the genre’s expansive growth in recent years, reaching toward the edges in order to better understand the center. It also preempts their second full-length album, Echo in the Valley, due out October 6 on Rounder Records. The follow-up to their 2014 self-titled debut finds the husband-and-wife duo exploring new territory by restricting their creative path: They only used banjos on their latest set of songs, and ensured all recordings could be reproduced live. The resulting conversations they have — a mix of original songs (all co-written for the first time in their career as a duo) and covers of Clarence Ashley and Sarah Ogan Gunning — reveal a quiet muscularity. The limitations, rather than stripping away their imaginative prowess, instead lay fecund ground. If 2017 really is the “Year of the Banjo,” then Béla and Abby are its exciting exemplars, showcasing just how much fun can be had on the edge.
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