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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ricky Skaggs - Country Hits: Bluegrass Style

Ricky Skaggs - Country Hits: Bluegrass Style
2011, Skaggs Family Records

What makes a musical legend?  Perhaps you could start with being the head of an eight-time International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Instrumental Band of the Year (Kentucky Thunder).  Somewhere in there you could add fourteen GRAMMY Awards, 8 ACM Awards, 8 CMA Awards, and have twelve consecutive albums receive GRAMMY nominations.  Or perhaps it would take no less than someone such as Chet Atkins declaring that you personally saved country music.  Somewhere in there your persona will take on a life of its own.  So it is for Ricky Skaggs.  Skaggs seems to never make a wrong move musically, but his latest album is a real treat.  Country Hits: Bluegrass Style revisits his country hits of the 1980's and early 1990's, putting a bluegrass spin on some of Skaggs' most requested songs. 

Skaggs sets off with an incredibly catchy and danceable take on "Heartbroke".  The instrumental work beneath the surface is absolutely superb, and the entertainment value is high.  Skaggs sails through the vocals in an easy-going fashion.  "Honey (Open That Door)", one of Skaggs' most requested songs, is done up in classic country style, with guitar work Chet Atkins himself would be proud of.  "Cajun Moon" blends old school country and Zydeco in a classy arrangement you'll find it hard to shake.  Skaggs sounds a lot like Hank Williams on the Flatt and Scruggs penned "Crying My Heart Out Over You".  Sweet and full of sorrow, Skaggs creates a masterful arrangement decorated with amazing vocal harmonies.  "He Was On To Something (So He Made You)" shows Skaggs' more subtle side on guitar, in a sweet arrangement that washes over you like water.

"Highway 40 Blues" is a sweet homage to life on the road where Skaggs and his band find a moment of instrumental perfection.  This leads into the virulently catchy "Uncle Pen", a celebration of country music with vocal harmonies that will send chills down your spine.  Skaggs takes listens for a brilliant, high-speed romp on "Country Boy".  Anyone who has ever slung a guitar or banjo over their shoulder will be absolutely in awe of the instrumental work here, which blends speed, precision and musicality and takes the listener to dizzying heights in a true "WOW" moment. 

Skaggs begins winding down with the classic-style country ballad "I Wouldn't Change You If I Could".  This sweet rendition is memorable; reverent to the original but with more of a home grown feel.  "Don't Get Above Your Raising" is a catchy and fun mid-tempo number; fun fluff that you can dance to without working too hard.  Country Hits, Bluegrass Style closes with "Somebody's Prayin'", a sweet number steeped in the blended history of gospel and country.  Skaggs' unadorned voice lends to the simple beauty of the song, and is the perfect to say "until next time."

Rather than simply drop a compilation of recordings his ardent fans already have, Ricky Skaggs makes the classy choice to re-interpret his biggest country hits in bluegrass style.  For some of the songs presented on Country Hits: Bluegrass Style the jump isn't so large, but Skaggs breathes new life into old songs and in the process reminds us all why his is one of the most revered names in country music.  Don't be surprised if Country Hits: Bluegrass Style becomes the 13th consecutive Skaggs album to be nominated for, and ultimately brings home his 15th GRAMMY Award.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more at or  Country Hits: Bluegrass Style is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available via iTunes.

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