It is always interesting to revisit the roots of an innovative artist who has been around a long time. Bela Fleck has been playing professional banjo since 1982. He played with the new-wave bluegrass band New Grass Revival to start out with before creating blu-bop (an impressive mix of blue grass, jazz, funk and rock) with his own band, the Flecktones. Rounder Records just re-released his first solo album, Crossing the Tracks, originally released in 1979.
It is mostly a straightforward bluegrass album with some acoustic swing tossed in for good measure. Though you can already see the blu-grass innovator wanting to branch out. What other bluegrass musician would dare to cover Chick Corea’s masterful “Spain”? And that with a lead Dobro part!
For his first solo outing, Bela managed to find some of the premier bluegrass players around to join him. The band includes Mark Schatz, Bob Applebaum, and Russ Barenbert. Everyone’s favorite mandolinist, Sam Bush, joins the fun on fiddle, and Jerry Douglass plays Dobro on a few tracks.
All but two tracks (the spry ode to a broken heart “How Can You Face Me Now”, and the mournful “Aint Gonna Work Tomorrow”) are instrumentals. Often Bela lays back, allowing the other musicians to step up and shine. Though, in title it is a solo album, he never puts his own picking ahead of the song.
Crossing the Tracks is a fascinating glimpse into the beginnings of a masterful musicians journey into innovation. For bluegrass lovers, Bela Fleck fans and even jazz junkies looking for new takes on a favorite tune this should be of interest.