It's no secret that the record business has been in a slump for the past few years. There is one exception: Seasonal songs still sell well. Last year, Josh Groban's "Noel" unexpectedly went from being just another Christmas-centric recording to the best-selling album of 2007, with nearly 2.8 million copies sold.
Experts say people want to hear songs that put them in the holiday spirit. And if you're someone who wants to hear those familiar songs with a different twist, you one can find a winner called "Jingle All the Way."
After hearing the band play "Jingle Bells," you may wonder what it was. Instruments you hear on a different take on the seasonal favorite include a saxophone, banjo, bass, a group of Tuvian Throat Singers and a Synthaxe Drumitar.
"The Flecktones are back on tour in November and December with a Christmas album," says Bela Fleck. "We're going to South America first, and then doing Christmas touring. [We're going to] Hawaii. It's a terrible life!"
That Bach Christmas Oratorio, featuring world renowned bass player Edgar Meyer is just one sign that The Flecktones haven't released a run-of-the-mill holiday collection. The unexpected is exactly what fans have come to expect from 10-time Grammy winner Bela Fleck, a musician known for playing jazz, pop, classical and world music on his banjo.
The 16 songs on "Jingle All The Way" are an eclectic mix of music from Bach to Joni Mitchell, with many holiday standards thrown in. But there's always a little twist to set these arrangements apart from ones you know.
Bela Fleck says the group felt a sense of freedom when it came to working up the songs. Because the songs are familiar, he felt the group could take a more experimental approach, and not stick to traditional arrangements. A good example is "Twelve Days of Christmas," which builds up to 12 different keys and 12 different time signatures over the course of the tune. Each day corresponds to a time signature: Day 2 is in 2/4 time, the seventh day in 7/8.
The Flecktones will be on tour in support of "Jingle All The Way" through the end of this year.
What's next for Bela after that? Trying to find a distributor for "Throw Down Your Heart," a movie he and his film director-brother made in Africa.
"We went to Mali, Tanzania, Uganda and Gambia … partly on a search for some of the origins of the banjo," says Fleck. "But partly just to take the modern American banjo and put it into African music, and see what would happen. So that's my big project. And then I'm recording with Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain. I was in India earlier this year playing with Zakir and Edgar, and we've got an orchestra piece and an album that goes around it that we are putting together."
The 16 tracks on "Jingle All The Way" are all performed by The Flecktones. In addition to Edgar Meyer and the Tuvian Throat singers, other guests include mandolin and clarinet player Andy Statman, who is featured on "Danse of the Sugar Plum Fairies."