BÉLA FLECK AND THE FLECKTONES – Greatest Hits of the 20th Century (1999)

Review by: Jonathan Moss
Album assigned by: Graeme Oxley

This a very fun album. It’s essentially a mix of bluegrass and jazz fusion. Now I’ve heard some jazz fusion and little bluegrass (unless CBGB bands like The Ramones count) but this wryly titled compilation makes the fusion very appealing.

Since the album is a compilation it is quite varied, with a lot of speedy and virtuosic tracks at the beginning and some slower more atmospheric ones later one. The song Vix 9 sounds quite Yessish and proggish in general but outside of that the album is more poppy, whilst still retaining a jazzy edge. With the exception of the Dave Matthews sung (which is good but would have been better if Colin Newman of Wire fame had sung it) song Communication all the songs on the album are instrumental.   

Of course, the main draw of the album is Béla Fleck who plays banjo the way Frank Zappa plays guitar (okay, I know comparing one good player to another is lazy and doesn’t really encapsulate their style. Just trust me, he’s good). He plays all sorts of fast, bendy lines, although he can also play in a slower more relaxed style. The important thing- as with all truly great virtuosos, in my view at least- isn’t just that he’s really talented musically at the thing but also melodically, playing a variety of fun, quirky riffs.

The rest of the band is really talented as well, though. The whole album is full of tasteful guitar riffs and some really complicated and melodic bass stuff. It’s kind of like Primus, one instrument is the main attraction but the other players are still great.
Something I forgot to mention earlier so will awkwardly do now is that one of the songs (Stomping Grounds) is live. This is a good decision though the song doesn’t sound tremendously different from that studio stuff, except a bit more spontaneous and lively, I guess.

The most impressive thing I can say about this album is that despite all the instrumental talent on display the whole thing sounds very down to earth. I love a lot of prog but I couldn’t really say that about any prog group. On the other hand “unpretentious music for pretentious people” isn’t the most glamorous title so maybe Van Der Graaf Generator had the right idea.

In all seriousness this is an album I’d definitely recommend, and if it wasn’t for the hypocrisy for not doing so myself yet I’d say check their other albums out as well. 
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Author: tomymostalas

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