On the jacket of his 1979 solo debut, banjo in hand, a 20-year-old Bela Fleck is laughing as if there's an inside joke no one else gets. Fleck, along with a smattering of musicians and bluegrass junkies in the Northeast, knew the punchline. With the release of this record some 26 years ago, Fleck's immense talent quickly became an inside joke no more.
Rounder recently reissued the album so a new generation now gets it. Brushed up with Fleck's reflections in the liner notes, the album predates his future innovations and incarnations - Grammys in classical as well as bluegrass, the New Grass Revival and his band the Flecktones.
Yet there was Fleck, some 26 years ago, taking off on jazzman Chic Corea's "Spain," then deftly gliding back to the traditional "Spring Thaw." Perhaps tame by today's standards, this was the pre-spacegrass era. And at the time, few people knew the names Russ Barenberg, Sam Bush, Mark Schatz, Pat Enright or Jerry Douglas - Fleck's virtuoso supporting cast here.
Though this joke has been told for a quarter-century now, the punchline - and Fleck, still deliver.