I had everything lined up, a ticket for Friday's Jazzfest to see Richard Thompson, John Prine and Stevie Wonder all in one fell swoop when things fell through and I couldn't get out of town in time. Jazzfest takes a degree of logistical planning I was unable to muster. However, all was not lost because I made my way into Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet at the Manship Theatre instead, largely so I could see band member and banjo innovator Béla Fleck. I've never been a big fan of his Flecktones recordings -- they subvert the players in that band by trying to be all things, but I adore Fleck's many side projects: his album of Indian music with V.M. Bhatt and his work with Washburn just being a few examples.
Washburn is a rare breed of singer we don't see anymore, one who tries to give their peculiar yet serious art enough pop sensibility to make it accessible. This group came about from a goodwill mission to China, where Washburn and crew learned Chinese folk and pop melodies and worked them into her art. Everyone on stage was brilliant, but the real payoff came when Fleck conjured some of the most angelic music ever coaxed from a banjo.
This week, we have some local talent lurking around those same crossroads. Harlan is releasing their second album, Spiderette, at a Chelsea's showcase. There will be a limited number of special edition CDs available at the show, and Kevin Hurstell of Slobot will open the set with a batch of his new material as well. But, if indie rock of sublime craftsmanship is not really your bag, you are hereby invited to plumb the depths of the North Gate Tavern for their Black Sabbath Tribute Night and find out who the real Iron Man is.