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Bela Fleck

The Bluegrass Sessions: Tales From The Acoustic Planet, Volume 2 – 1999 (Warner)

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

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CDs by Bela Fleck

Justifiably revered banjo player Bela Fleck has a long, varied resume of accomplishments and awards. It most notably includes his 10-year association with the hugely influential New Grass Revival and subsequent forays into fusion jazz with The Flecktones that changed the perception of what could be done with a banjo. Fleck now returns to the mostly instrumental bluegrass sound of past solo efforts like "Drive" (Rounder, 1987), and utilizes some of the same pickers to round out his "dream band for playing bluegrass or anything closely related to it."

Tony Rice, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan and Mark Schatz are familiar names to bluegrass fans. Special guest vocalists and players include Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Vassar Clements, John Hartford, Earl Scruggs and Tim O'Brien.

While this is a bluegrass album in name, Fleck seems to delight in offering up the unexpected from the gorgeous acoustic instrumental "When Joy Kills Sorrow," that contradicts any stereotype of the banjo as an ugly, plucky sounding instrument, to the pair of polkas where Fleck manages to echo Joey Miskulin's actual accordion playing with his banjo.

Traditional bluegrass sounds aren't ignored, however. Opener "Blue Mountain Hop," does just that with a jaunty tune, and "Foggy Mountain Special," sounds just as classic as the title implies. Compared to his contemporaries more earthbound outings, Fleck has been shooting his music into outer space for years now. If there really were an "Acoustic Planet," as this album's title implies, chances are it would revolve around him.