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Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn

Sat., Feb. 28, 5 & 8 p.m.

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, who married in 2009, are two of the greatest banjo players in the world, and on their eponymous duo album released last fall by Rounder they expertly merge disparate sensibilities, united by their shared curiosity. Fleck is the virtuoso, a key figure in the progressive bluegrass movement and a sucker for technical indulgence and fussy arrangements, while Washburn cleaves to traditionalist roots even as she pushes her old-time foundation toward experiments with Chinese traditional music. Deploying banjos of different size and pitch (and one without frets), the pair produces a surprisingly warm, full-bodied sound on an instrument noted for its brittle twang and lack of sustain. Fleck and Washburn deftly interweave arpeggiated lines that form both a sweet, delicate lattice of sound and a sturdy sense of propulsion. The wide-ranging tracks include remade traditional pieces like “Railroad” (“I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”) and “Pretty Polly” as well as a concise medley of folkish Bartók themes. There’s also a rousing adaptation of a song by quirky gospel-blues great Washington Phillips (“What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?”) and the Washburn original “Shotgun Blues,” which delivers lyrical bullets in an attempt to settle the score for women victimized in traditional murder ballads (“Wish I was a big girl / Could let my heart be free / But if I was a big girl / I’d have hung you in a tree”). Fleck provides most of the instrumental flash through his agile soloing, but the soul comes from Washburn (who also provides all of the lead vocals). I was half expecting a quickie collaboration with no sense of identity, but the couple has delivered a record far more complex, heartfelt, and rich than I could’ve imagined. —Peter Margasak sold out

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Maurer Hall, Old Town School of Folk Music (map)
4544 N. Lincoln Ave.
Ravenswood
phone 773-728-6000
Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn

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Midge Ure

Sat., March 7, 8 p.m.

This Scottish-born singer-songwriter was perfectly positioned to witness the second and third great explosions of British music in the 70s and 80s, and he certainly contributed his fair share. In his heyday, he went from filling Gary Moore’s amps in Thin Lizzy to creating the coolly elegant, romantic synthpop of Ultravox at a time when this was seen as a great weird leap. (Ure also worked with Bob Geldof on the Live Aid projects and is partly responsible for “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Whether you consider that credit or blame is up to you, but I personally always liked that song better than “We Are the World.”) But his career path since the 90s has been laid-back, to say the least. Last year’s Fragile (Hypertension) was his first solo album of new, noninstrumental noncovers since 2001! Unsurprisingly, though, he picks up as if no time has passed. There’s a sweetly polished pop romanticism about the record—and a wistful maturity. A lot of these songs could pass as working drafts of Ultravox tunes, but I especially love the rich orchestration of “Wire and Wood” and the passion of “Are We Connected.” —Monica Kendrick $30, $28 members

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