Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recordings engineered by Mike Gentry and Brett Allen
One of the things that we're supposed to take wholly for granted is the idea that no matter how bad a day and night might be, our consolation prize is that the sun's going to come up the next day and the next day and the next, ceremoniously wiping out the previous ones, though not doing anything to rid us of what actually happened on those pages of our lives. It's supposed to be a great leg, to have that to stand on, this incredibly loyal offering from the sun and the earth's rotation. It's just bound to happen, that sun choking itself over the horizon in a gifted approach that goes from grapefruit to squash to sunflower and back to grapefruit every day. It has to happen because we can't possibly comprehend what it would mean if it didn't. Well, we're either dead or about to be. The thing with Abigail Washburn is that, even though she fosters the sort of hopefulness in the beauty of renewal, in the new light that we're about to have bestowed upon us as our grogginess wears off and we take our emptying out piss in the morning, she makes it sound as if she earns her morning's rising sun. It is not taken for granted and you can hear it on "Bright Morning Stars," the closing cut on her newest album, "City of Refuge," where the day is breaking in her soul and it sounds as if there's absolutely nothing better than that feeling. We come into it chapped and sunken, dragging our limbs around as if they were sneakily filled with cannonballs. The Nashville singer and songwriter takes us into the cold nightmares of the heart that aren't filled with devils and bogeymen, but with the regrets of passing days, of people we didn't get a chance to pay of last respects to and to the gobs and gobs of people that we feel like we didn't give enough of our love to. They are the nightmares of the everyman and everywoman, those that are impossible to forget about no matter how hard anyone tries. She upholsters these moments in a bluegrassy, folk tint that makes the flames and the real nasty hurt feel a little more subtle or meant to be in there, just the way of it. On "Last Train," Washburn sings, "Can't you hear that last train come rollin'/Come to carry old days away/Can't you hear the hard times and high times slippin' away/People lie for a reason/Like the law, they make up your mind," as if there was actually something that could do away with all of the before: the old pictures, the old feelings, the old times, the old people. But there's no such thing and there's no such escape from one day to the next, from one grapefruit red morning to the following grapefruit red night. "Dreams of Nectar" is one of the best songs of the year and Washburn is a poet in her prime when she sings, "Weary eyes don't see the difference 'tween the dark and the light/Ten years later papa wrote me sayin' mama had died/Wish that I could see her face now and the hope in her eyes/Wish that I could see her face now and the hope in her eyes/I'm just old now, all alone, in a land of fertile lies/I see my unborn babies, tired birds in the sky/I see my unborn babies, tired birds in the sky/Before I die, grant me one thing, grant one thing to me/Don't let me dream of nectar, make me the fruit on the tree." Yes, everyone, days are tough, right up until the end, maybe not individually, but altogether, as our final statement is visible, we see it. Washburn helps it.