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The Earls of Leicester

Rattle & Roar – 2016 (Rounder)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by The Earls of Leicester

In the spirit of "if it was a good idea the first time around, it's got to be worth trying again," Jerry Douglas and his collaborators in the Earls Of Leicester return with a follow-up to their self-titled Grammy-winning debut of two years ago. On the off chance that you missed it the first time around, Douglas pulled the band together, not as just another "tribute" band, but to try and capture the full spirit and exceptional musicianship of the Flatt and Scruggs shows that drew him into bluegrass during his Ohio upbringing. In his particular case, getting to see Dobro pioneer Josh Graves up close and personal set him on the road to becoming the pre-eminent master of the instrument that he has been for some four decades now.

For this encore disc, in addition to Douglas, four members from the original cast return: Johnny Warren fiddles in much the same style as his late father Paul, who held down that post for most of the F & S era; Charlie Cushman remains among the premier Scruggs-style banjo players in the business; Barry Bales is as steady on bass as ever and Shawn Camp continues to have an almost otherworldly knack for capturing the vocal essence of Lester Flatt without doing a slavish imitation of him. The first disc featured Tim O'Brien on mandolin, but he has bowed out and been replaced in the "Curly Seckler role" by the always reliable Jeff White.

Again in the "more of a good thing" line of thinking, "Rattle And Roar" features 17 faithful versions of Flatt and Scruggs standards, most of which may not be well-known to the casual bluegrass fan, but to longtime F & S devotees will be very familiar: "Flint Hill Special," "Mother Prays Loud In Her Sleep," "The Girl I Love Don't Pay Me No Mind" and "The Train That Carried My Girl From Town" represent just a small sampling.

It bears repeating that this all works as well as it does because, unlike other "tribute bands" across the various genres, the Earls are each highly accomplished artists on their own outside of this particular gig, not just a bunch of guys focusing on one sound to the exclusion of all others. Well beyond the technical aspects, they have a deep understanding, appreciation for and experience with the culture that gave birth to the music (Warren is literally a living, breathing connection to the original). If you "got" the Earls on the first go-round, it's a pretty good bet you won't be disappointed this time. If you missed them, here's another chance.