“They nearly always come back,” says Béla Fleck. “All the people that leave bluegrass. I had a strong feeling that I’d be coming back as well.”
My Bluegrass Heart, out September 10, 2021 on Renew Records / BMG, is that return the 15-time Grammy winner is talking about – the third chapter in a decades-spanning trilogy that began with 1988’s Drive and continued in 1999 with The Bluegrass Sessions. Produced and composed by Fleck, My Bluegrass Heart marks Béla’s first bluegrass album in over 20 years. At the core of My Bluegrass Heart is the tradition of sharing music between generations.
Hear Béla’s new song “Charm School” featuring Billy Strings on guitar and Chris Thile on mandolin. “Charm School” started out with a banjo tune in C, using loads of harmonics,” says Fleck. “‘C harm.’ Get it? In some ways, it’s the wildest and jammiest track on the album, and yet highly melodic and organized. I feel this was the perfect vehicle for this band and the perfect band for this song. And when you think about us musical dogs that sometimes need to go crazy, yet live in a world where we’re expected to follow the rules, maybe it’s the perfect title, too.”
“Charm School” is out now on all streaming platforms, and My Bluegrass Heart is available for preorder at BelaFleck.com, and will be available on all formats.
“In my opinion, Béla Fleck is one of the most important musicians of all time,” adds Billy Strings. “He bridges the gap between bluegrass, classical, jazz, world music, and everything in between. It seems like there’s no limit to what he can achieve on the banjo.”
Béla will be touring My Bluegrass Heart throughout 2021, including a special night at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on January 7, 2022 with Sam Bush, Michael Cleveland, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Sierra Hull, Edgar Meyer, Justin Moses, Mark Schatz, Billy Strings, Bryan Sutton, Chris Thile, Molly Tuttle and more to be announced. Tour dates are below, and ticket information can be found at belafleck.com.
Along the way, the celebrated banjo player and musical adventurer has both dug deep into his instrument’s complex global history and unlocked the breadth of its possibilities. My Bluegrass Heart is a homecoming in sound, to be sure.
And when you travel, you bring home something new. When the endlessly curious Fleck prepared to make The Bluegrass Sessions, for example, he contemplated some other musical wanderers: “It was ten years after the Drive album, and I had been doing the Flecktones for all that time; I was coming back thinking hmm…what have I learned that I can bring back to bluegrass?” he said. “It resonated with me how Coltrane and Charlie Parker, after studying a lot of music from outside of the jazz world, brought some truly great things back to it from the outside.”
More than anything, it was this group of musicians that drew Fleck home to bluegrass. His core group of bluegrass comrades, including mandolinist and fellow New Grass Revivalist Sam Bush, guitarist Tony Rice, fiddle player Stuart Duncan, bassist Mark Schatz and dobro player Jerry Douglas, appear on Drive, Bluegrass Sessions, and all except for the late Tony Rice are featured on My Bluegrass Heart. The album is dedicated to Tony and Chick Corea, whose classic My Spanish Heart inspired the title. Corea knew about the title. “He laughed and said ‘Yeah, man. Go for it!” said Fleck.
Other guests include Chris Thile, Molly Tuttle, David Grisman, Brian Sutton, Edgar Meyer, Sierra Hull (whose Grammy-nominated 2016 album Weighted Mind Fleck had produced), Billy Strings, Tony Trischka, and fiddle avant-gardist Billy Contreras.
My Bluegrass Heart is vividly collaborative, and part of Fleck’s talent as a leader is encouraging his bandmates. “Béla took such a collaborative spirit with this,” Sierra Hull said. “He has an ability to bring out the best in people, to allow them to bring what they’re good at and let them shine.”
“This is not a straight bluegrass album, but it’s written for a bluegrass band,” Fleck explained. “I like taking that instrumentation, and seeing what I can do with it – how I can stretch it, what I can take from what I’ve learned from other kinds of music, and what can apply for this combination of musicians, the very particularly ‘bluegrass’ idea of how music works, and what can be accomplished that might be unexpected, but still has deep connections to the origins.”
The Flecktones, the project that immediately followed New Grass Revival, recently celebrated 30 years of melding acoustic with electronic and bluegrass with jazz and funk. There’s also Fleck’s duo albums and tours with jazz legend Chick Corea and his life partner Abigail Washburn, the Brooklyn Rider String Quartet, three classical banjo concertos, an amazing collaboration with Indian musical royalty: Zakir Hussain, Rakesh Churasia and old friend/bass genius Edgar Meyer, also on My Bluegrass Heart. And don’t forget his award-winning 2009 documentary Throw Down Your Heart, which explored the African origins of the banjo.
“My dirty little secret,” Béla laughs, “Is that I don’t play that differently from genre to genre. It’s about the musicians I surround myself with. Bluegrass though – it’s central to everything I do.”
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