Béla Fleck’s band of merry music revelers includes Sam Bush, Chris Thile, Sierra Hull, Justin Moses, Tony Trischka, Jerry Douglas, Michael Cleveland, Andy Leftwich, Mark Schatz, Bryan Sutton, Molly Tuttle, Billy Strings, David Grisman, Dominick Leslie, Cody Kilby, Billy Contreras, Stuart Duncan, Paul Kowert, Royal Masat, Edgar Meyer, and Noam Pikelny. These music makers join the band because they love the music, and you can hear the studio banter amongst them as they josh and joke and push one another to elevate their styles, in the true spirit of bluegrass community where everybody brings their best licks or runs and shares them in the quest of musical communion.
Every song or tune on My Bluegrass Heart flows with a spaciousness that allows the music to develop within its own little symphonic structure. The opening tune, “Vertigo,” commences with the slow notes of a waltz before launching into a spiraling romp on which fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and guitar stretch out and mimic the reeling, spinning wooziness of vertigo. Trischka and Pikelny let loose on “Boulderdash,” which features Strings on guitar and evokes the song’s title as the instruments dash nimbly around a jaunty old-time tune. Kilby’s scampering guitar runs kick off the Celtic-inflected reel “Baptist Pumpkin Farm”; the joke’s on the Baptists, many of whom forbid dancing as sinful, because this tune would be the highlight of any Sunday dinner on the grounds when the tables should be cleared and the ground swept for a hoedown. The mournful opening of “Strider” evolves into an airy bluegrass symphony, while the crystalline riffs of “This Old Road” create a poignant nostalgia for times and places now gone and the lives lived in those places; you can hear the celebratory voices of town folks at home on their porches down that old road. “Tentacle Dragon” couldn’t be a better title for a tune whose many musical arms reach out and surround us with an infectious spirit that alternates between sorrow, and maybe even anger, and joy, while “Wheels Up” mimics the vertiginous moment when a plane’s wheels lift off the ground, launching the aircraft into flight. The album closes with the meditative “Psalm 136,” which captures the celebratory spirit of the biblical text about love.
Béla Fleck and his band of merry musicians know how to enjoy themselves, and on this album they carry us on a romp through bluegrass meadows that detour into verdure fields of swirling jazz, the swaying grasses of folk, and the soaring treetops of classical. The tunes and songs on My Bluegrass Heart swoop vertiginously, ramble and saunter with loose-jointed, loping strides, and the notes and phrases weave under, around, and over each other, threading thematic sonic lines through a colorful musical patchwork.
My Bluegrass Heart is available HERE.