Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: I liked it even before I knew the story.

The Long Version: Afterquake is a short album – 7 tracks, 18 minute run time – created by Abigail Washburn and David Liang, the latter doing business as the Shanghai Restoration Project, and the former being one of the most interesting clawhammer banjo players in America. Designed as a fundraiser for the reconstruction in China's Sichuan province following the 2008 earthquake, Afterquake is music primarily composed of "found" audio: children's singing, sounds from the reconstruction, and other local sources. There's no way to tell from the results that the entire project was completed in just a few weeks.

While the "genre" field in iTunes is notoriously inaccurate, it flags Afterquake as Electronic, which is reasonable enough even if it isn't exactly true. Irredeemable Metallica fans may not care for it, and anyone with an extensive opera collection is likewise better off elsewhere. But people with more diverse tastes in contemporary music will probably find it perfectly listenable, and any other modern bluegrass fans out there – I know there are a few of us – should check it out just to appreciate the amazing range of Béla Fleck's better half. It may not be something for non-Mandarin speakers to sing along to, but it's catchy just the same.

On an irrelevant aside, I also have to admit that I was pleased to see the distinctive shape of Sony's PCM-D50 audio recorder in a couple of the Afterquake videos. It's the same device that I use for field recordings, and while I'll never review it, I have looked at its case and some furry wind blockers. (For what it's worth, indoors they seem to prefer the Sony original, while outdoors it looks suspiciously like a Røde "Dead Kitten".) It's amazing what some solid but basic equipment can do when it's combined with tremendous skill and talent.

last updated 19 may 2011


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