big country. one of my favorite pieces of music ever created, and always a joy to see played live. it was one of the first instrumentals i immediately latched onto when i was young and still discovering music outside of the grateful dead, and it was one of those times where the music completely overtakes you.
it seems like such a simple melody, but when you isolate the individual instruments -especially when they solo in the top video- it’s clear how many different layers there are to this song.
the first version up top comes from the live at the quick dvd. in addition to the 4 flecktones, there are five more musicians including paul mccandless, an original founding member of the band. if you’ve never seen this show then it’s a must-watch. victor wooten’s shirt alone is worth the purchase.
pre-rehearsed or not, the bass and sax duel with jeff and victor at 3:28 is excellent and gives me chills watching them stare each other down while continually one-upping each other’s melody.
then the big boss man comes strutting out like the cock of the walk strumming his banjo with one hand as he eases into his solo, which goes in an awesomely unexpected direction before bringing everyone back for a triumphant finish.
a few years ago, bela took part in the transatlantic sessions, which is a constantly changing group of musicians from scotland, ireland, england and north america who get together for a week each year to record new takes on each other’s music with mostly folk and country influenced takes on the songs.
this version of “big country” is beautiful in its own right, and should be taken as an almost different song altogether. slower and with a more melancholic undertone, the different instruments accentuate the song’s melody in a brand new way that i love just as much as the quick version.
and i included the original studio version for comparison, which by itself is still a lovely tune.