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Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder

Live At The Charleston Music Hall – 2003 (Skaggs Family)

Reviewed by Ken Burke

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CDs by Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder

Recorded in Charleston, S.C. before a knowledgeable and appreciative crowd, Ricky Skaggs and his IBMA award-winning group Kentucky Thunder laid down a live set of hot bluegrass replete with dizzying fast licks and tasteful, lean harmonies. Boasting folksy humor and superior sound quality, this 15-song performance radiates with liberating roots music intensity.

This is not to say that every moment is flawless. Although dramatically necessary changes-of-pace, both the penitent "I Heard My Mother Call My Name In Prayer" and the dying mother scenario of "Somewhere Nice Forever," play out mawkishly. Better are the sinister undercurrents revealed in Carter Stanley's "On A Lonesome Night" and a nakedly emotional rendition of Harry Chapin's "Cat's In the Cradle."

Flat-out fun emanates from such Bill Monroe-derived barndance ditties as "Why Did You Wander," "Uncle Pen" and the Stanley Brothers' "Pig In A Pen." Yet Skaggs and crew are at their flashy best playing the fast and loose breakdowns "Amanda Jewel," the Celtic-flavored "Crossville" and the stunning show closer "Get Up John." Displaying musical timing that borders on the telepathic, the supremely skilled Kentucky Thunder push their 49-year-old leader hard. When he pushes back they forge some of the most dynamic and cathartic bluegrass of our time.