Ricky Skaggs has seen a lot of milestones in his career, from performing on the Flatt and Scruggs TV show as a child to singing with boyhood friend Keith Whitley in Ralph Stanley's band to spearheading (with George Strait and Randy Travis) the revival of the classic country sound in the 1980s and finally, at the turn of the century, returning to bluegrass in the wake of the passing of his idol Bill Monroe.
Along the way, of course, in what was something of a "country royalty" event, he married Sharon White, no stranger herself to success in the music business with sister Cheryl and father Buck, as The Whites. It will likely come as a reality check to those who have followed all or most of their careers to realize that both Ricky and Sharon are now in their 60th year, and that wedding was more than three decades ago.
Curiously, although they did release a hit single together, "Love Can't Ever Get Better Than This" in 1987, they had never recorded a full project together - until now. "Hearts Like Ours" is a 13-track collection of love songs from an array of Nashville's more moving writers, including Leslie Satcher, Stephanie Chapman, Paul Overstreet, Nancy Montgomery and Irene Kelley. Montgomery and Kelley, in fact, wrote "Love Can't Ever Get Better Than This," and the new version here is as nicely done as it was the first time around.
The title track is by another of Nashville's "royal couples," Connie Smith and Marty Stuart, and it's also among the standouts. While Skaggs and White have been mostly known these past 15 years or so for their bluegrass work (The Whites were featured in "O Brother, Where Art Thou"), the arrangements are a throwback to the '80s when Skaggs was churning out number one hits like clockwork, and Nashville seemingly rediscovered the pedal steel guitar. There are no "when she left me, she took my pickup, so I got drunk" songs. From top to bottom, the songs deal with the timelessness, fulfillment and - sometimes - difficulty of love that lasts between people who are committed to each other. Like any other couple, Mr. and Mrs. Skaggs have had their share of adversity, but more than 30 years later, they're still standing and still singing.
Perhaps the best track, though, is their rendition of Townes Van Zandt's "If I Needed You." It's a song that's been recorded by many others, but this is as good a version as you're likely to hear.