Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise

AUGUST 28, 2000: 

Béla Fleck & The Flecktones Outbound (Columbia)

Béla Fleck & The Flecktones just keep cranking 'em out. It's amazing.

On this newest release, Fleck and his ultra-talented cohorts continue to build on a (new) tradition of excellence and inventiveness the likes of which very few contemporary artists can equal. In addition to the savory and joyous noisemaking discerning listeners have come to expect from Fleck, Jeff Coffin, Future Man, and his outrageously gifted brother Victor Wooten, Outbound features deft performances from a load of bright and shining guests.

As is often the case with bold new music, the material on any given Flecktones CD is somewhat difficult to categorize, and the tracks which form Outbound don't disappoint in this respect. Genres and cultural references as diverse as R&B, Latin, rock, prog rock, jazz, mid-eastern trance, bluegrass, classical, Tin Pan Alley, and klezmer get bent, blended, deconstructed, and reconstituted so expertly that prolonged exposure to the release induces a mild sense of dreamy disorientation, temporarily replacing one's native sensibilities.

As always, Fleck's mutated banjo leads the way here. (He also plays various guitars and even an electric sitar.) Coffin blows saxes, a flute, and a clarinet. Future Man finger-taps his MIDI-triggered drum samples. And Victor well, Victor does his best to hold down his position as the combo's bassist. Yes, he does

Guests include vocalists Shawn Colvin, Ondar, Rita Sahai, and Jon Anderson. (Attention Anderson fans: His presence is very understated here; I'll bet he's never been placed this far back in a mix.) Along with the Love Sponge String Quartet, outstanding instrumentalists John Medeski (B-3 organ), Mark Feldman (violin), Adrian Belew (electric guitar), Paul McCandless (soprano sax, oboe, English horn, and penny whistle), and Andy Narell (steel pans) combine with others to stock the Outbound sessions with all kinds of wonderfully sophisticated ear candy. (Hey, that's a compliment!) -- Stephen Grimstead

Patty Larkin Regrooving The Dream (Vanguard Records)

This is Patty Larkin's ninth album and her first studio effort for Vanguard Records (last year's festive live release, a go go, was her debut for this label). Her latest CD is a little more gritty and a little less pretty than her early releases, but Larkin has been steadily moving in that direction for some time now.

The self-produced Regrooving The Dream is all about sonic experimentation, with an emphasis on texture, feel, and atmosphere. The album has a Zen-like, pared-down feel, but despite this, the sound is rich, full, and interesting. Maybe it's because Larkin laid down the background to all the tracks in her studio on Cape Cod before she brought in any musicians. She handles a multitude of instruments wonderfully, and for the first time, her aim seems to be equally focused on her music and her amazing lyrics. Often, her astute songwriting talents have eclipsed her skillful, imaginative guitar playing, but on this CD (perhaps because of the way it was put together) her guitar work really shines through as a force of its own. This is very apparent in the instrumentals (both acoustic and electric) that delineate the other song cycles. Particularly good cuts are the untitled closing track and the amazing "When," which has a complexity and urgency that reminds me of nothing less than a Michael Hedges piece. Her dreamy jazz-inflected playing in the background of "Only One" is also a revelation.

She's still mixing up surprising musical motifs -- a phase-shifted cello with an Elvis croon on "Mink Coats," jazzy blues behind a samba beat on "Only One." A sampled horn section with a looped lap-steel riff makes a super-funky foundation for "Anyway The Main Thing Is." And she's still writing about the underbelly and the underdogs of our fair country and deftly spitting in the eye of the homogenization process so rampant in America, most notably on the wonderful "Beg to Differ."

Larkin's trademark vignettes are also still in force on this release, with her uncanny ability to encapsulate a character in the space of a few lines. But she seems to be striving to convey as much with her music as with her words. Even her pauses and phrasing speak volumes. Her breathy sighs between lyrics on "Only One," for instance, tell more about her disbelief at finally being lucky in love than any words could say. And the mystical "Hotel Monte Vista" -- although it only features Larkin's voice and guitars with a simple bass and drum line -- creates an opulent, otherworldly ambience.

Regrooving The Dream not only reaffirms Larkin's status as one of our premier singer-songwriters, but also cements her reputation as a producer and multi-instrumentalist in her own right. -- Lisa Lumb

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