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Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
The Hidden Land
Sony BMG

There is something missing from the latest CD by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, something intangible and ineffable. That is not to say that the music is bad, quite the contrary - The Hidden Land features impeccable instrumentation and catchy, upbeat melodies. But, the album lacks ambience and evenness.

Bach's "Fugue From Prelude and Fugue No. 20 in a Minor, BWV 889 " begins the record with its lighthearted melody and jaunty instrumentation, leading suddenly into "P'lod in the House," which is an equally lively Fleck composition. Yet, somehow, both seem like muzak one might hear while on an elevator or on hold to waiting to make a doctor's appointment. "Rococo" has the requisite ambience, consisting mostly of the interplay between Fleck's gut-string banjo and Jeff Coffin's exquisite flute. Likewise, "Labyrinth" is a promising track, filled with haunting vocals by drummer Future Man, Fleck's intricate guitar riff, and Coffin's smoldering tenor sax flourishes, while "Kaleidoscope" features a playful melody one might expect to hear on a Caribbean island.

"Who's Got Three?" is pleasantly reminiscent of a silent film score, at once lively and wistful. "Weed Whacker," however, finds Fleck and company returning to a muzak feel after a promising bass intro. The final tracks of the album find Fleck returning a bit more to his newgrass past. "Couch Potato" features countrified banjo interludes mixed with ominous fusion refrains, while "Chennai" has a menacing electric banjo melody that slowly picks up steam. "Subterfuge" is a James Bond-inspired ballad with nightclub sax, while the following "Interlude" is a summer evening jazz snip-it. "Misunderstood" continues the summer evening feel with its slow-moving pop-rock simmer. The closer, "Whistle Tune," is a banjo and brush drum jaunt down a country road.

Individually, the songs on The Hidden Land are, for the most part, enjoyable and melodic. The collection as a whole, however, lacks that certain potency, that verve, that makes a good album great.

-Tracy M. Rogers

Track List:
1. Fugue From Prelude and Fugue No. 20 in a Minor, BWV 889
2. P'lod in the House
3. Rococo
4. Labyrinth
5. Kaleidoscope
6. Who's Got Three?
7. Weed Whacker
8. Couch Potato
9. Chennai
10. Subterfuge
11. Interlude
12. Misunderstood
13. The Whistle Tune

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