- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2006

I’m not trying to be coy when I say we do a little bit of everything,” Eric Brace, lead singer-songwriter of Last Train Home, says with a laugh.

“We’ll do straight up rock ‘n’ roll. We’ll do country. We’ll do some kind of almost punk stuff. We’ll do Tex-Mex and boleros and swing and Tin Pan Alley. Some people call it Americana, but I think that’s a little too easy. It’s really a culmination of everything we’ve listened to for our whole lives.”

Whatever Last Train Home plays this weekend in its latest stand at Iota in Arlington, it will definitely be a terrific combination of talented musicians, creative songwriting and an overall good time. Seven or eight musicians (most originally based in the District), and sometimes more, will share the stage tomorrow and Saturday night, and Sunday at an all-ages matinee.

“I’ve always tried to incorporate as many people as I can, because really my whole goal is to share in the fun,” Mr. Brace says.

Growing up in the Washington area, Mr. Brace, now 46, watched such bands as bluegrass legends the Seldom Scene and local blues greats the Nighthawks. He was struck by more than just the fact that they played great music.

“What I was getting from them is, they’re having so much fun on stage. And they’re creating this thing that’s greater than the sum of the parts and they’re having a blast doing it. That’s all I ever wanted to do.”

Last Train Home has been doing it since 1997, part time at first and full time since January 2003. That’s when Mr. Brace took a leave of absence from a successful career as a Washington music journalist to move to Nashville along with Last Train Home drummer Martin Lynds and bassist Jim Gray. Being on the road most of the time, it made sense to live someplace cheaper and more supportive of a musician’s lifestyle.

What was different in Nashville was the amount of support and interaction with other musicians, and not just the working and struggling ones, but successful stars like the Mavericks, Nanci Griffith, Chely Wright and Alison Moorer.

“It’s such a cool, ‘We’re all in this together’ feeling. Even with these people who have sold a million records,” Mr. Brace continues. “Everybody is supporting each other.”

All this support has helped Last Train Home make its two most popular — with both critics and fans — independent albums, “Time and Water” and “Bound Away.” The band just finished recording the first six songs for a new album, due out in January. The album will feature new Last Train Home guitarist Steve Wedemeyer and keyboard player Jen Gunderman.

“We sound like the Heartbreakers, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. So we’re definitely getting into more of a rock sound,” Mr. Brace says. “We’re playing so well. I just feel really lucky.”

• • •

When banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck moved to Nashville in the 1980s he was already a stellar bluegrass musician. While stretching the limits of progressive bluegrass with Sam Bush and New Grass Revival, Mr. Fleck was also experimenting with the jazz possibilities of the banjo. In 1988, he formed Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and jumped with both feet into jazz.

Now in their 18th year, the Flecktones bring their unique Grammy-winning jazz/world beat/bluegrass/acoustic music sound to Wolf Trap on Sunday.

After taking a year off for family and side projects, the band released a new album, “The Hidden Land,” in January. This album takes a fresh approach.

“The last several albums that we’ve done have been community-type albums. I guess we just got kind of bored with ourselves for a while so we started bringing in guests,” Mr. Fleck says of their former style.

In contrast, the new album is just the band: Mr. Fleck, bassist Victor Wooten, drummer Future Man (Roy Wooten) and saxophonist Jeff Coffin.

“‘The Hidden Land’ can mean a lot of things, and one possible thing is that the band itself is ‘the hidden land.’ We’ve been hidden on our records by all the guests and all the exciting stuff we’ve put in,” Mr. Fleck says.

“It’s a good time to just go back and be us. And no sleight of hand, nothing that we couldn’t actually do live.”

Since the album’s release, the band has been touring heavily and playing songs from the new album, but at this point, Mr. Fleck says, the new music isn’t quite new anymore and the band is ready to move on.

“We’re playing it better than we’ve ever played it, but we’re actually starting to go back and play some more old stuff on stage along with the new album,” he says. “And we’re working on new stuff at sound check every day. It’s a creative phase starting again.”

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