Ah, the songs and sounds of the holidays. They're fun ... for a while.
One day you're having a holly, jolly time dreaming of a white Christmas, and a few days later — a few elbow-sharpening trips to the mall, a few times stuck dining in a restaurant blaring these tunes — you're ready to roast Rudolph on a spit and shove Frosty button-nose first into a blazing Yule log. Fa la la la la, ha ha ha! Prepare to meet your puddle, Frosty!
Ahem ... where was I?
Oh right, Christmas songs. They're fun ... for a while. But here's a little secret: You can extend their welcome by digging deeper than the usual suspects. Of course you must hear the classics by Ives, Crosby, Sinatra and the like, but be sure to break those up with non-traditional takes on Christmas songs, like those all over “Jingle All The Way,” the 2008 album by Béla Fleck & The Flecktones.
Fleck should need no introduction, but just in case: He's a virtuoso banjo player and perhaps the singular figure in newgrass over the past couple of decades, thanks to his masterful splicing of bluegrass with other genres, especially jazz.
Fleck has won 11 Grammys — in country, pop, instrumental, jazz, classical and world music categories (seriously) — and has been nominated for dozens more.
The 52-year-old New York native has worked with big names ranging from Dave Matthews to Chick Corea and Edgar Meyer to Alash, the Tuvan throat-singing troupe that will open the Flecktones' show Wednesday at Mountain View High School in Bend.
So it's no surprise that “Jingle All The Way” is a set of ultra-familiar songs performed in a mishmash of unexpected styles. “Silent Night” starts off with a funky bass line and unfolds into a banjo-driven jazz number. “Sleigh Ride” gets a classic bluegrass breakdown treatment. “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” sounds like jazz giant Charlie Parker jamming with a string band on the “Seinfeld” theme song.
Even Bach's Christmas Oratorio takes on a fluttery, poppy feel in the hands of the Flecktones. And “The Twelve Days Of Christmas” is a labyrinthine beast, zigging and zagging all across the style galaxy.
“Jingle All The Way” won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album, but taken as a whole, even its 16 tracks can make you long for Dec. 26. Interspersed among more traditional holiday songs on your iPod, however, these songs are both palate-cleansers and a fun challenge to your ears' holiday expectations.
Which is exactly what Fleck wanted. Just last week, he called “Jingle” an “antidote to Christmas albums” in an interview with the Montreal Gazette.
“If you can't stand all that sweet smarmy stuff, well, our record never goes in that direction in the slightest,” he said.
That doesn't mean the songs won't warm that chilly, seasonally curious part of your heart, however.
“No matter what we do ... you'll know what songs we're doing within a few bars,” Fleck said, “because we all know these melodies.”