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
1. Fugue From Prelude and Fugue No. 20 in a Minor, BWV 889
2. P'lod in the House
6. Who's Got Three?
7. Weed Whacker
8. Couch Potato
13. The Whistle Tune
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