Ricky Skaggs celebrated his 50th anniversary of playing music with his last album, which featured bluegrass versions of hits from his country music career. At this point, Skaggs is solidly entrenched in the bluegrass side of things, and if one counts his time with Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys, he has probably played bluegrass longer than he did country, making this latest disc true to its title when it comes to Skaggs' fans.
Traditional bluegrass played in a flawless professional manner has been the hallmark of Skaggs' second-time-around bluegrass material from the beginning of his re-emergence into the genre, and while that polite, polished style is all over these new songs, they are delivered in spirited takes which push the instrumental and vocal envelope. You Can't Hurt Ham covers the corny humor requirement with relish, for example, while Tennessee Stud acknowledges the late Doc Watson's influence nicely with a spoken intro from Skaggs.
Skaggs' Christian faith has taken center stage on full albums before, and while this isn't one of those sets the title track Music To My Ears is a classic-sounding gospel chant/song delivered in an appropriately reverent manner. Equally touching is Soldier's Son, which tackles the consequences of war on a family's life.
At this juncture in his career one might forgive Ricky Skaggs if he were to coast a bit and merely offer up a paint-by-numbers album of bluegrass standards; that he continues to challenge his listeners and himself is a testament to his unfinished artistic journey.