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The Earls of Leicester

Earls of Leicester Live at the CMA Theater in the Country Music Hall of Fame – 2018 (Rounder)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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CDs by The Earls of Leicester

To suggest The Earls of Leicester are bluegrass royalty is no false decree. Unlike other self - proclaimed members of the traditional hierarchy - kings, queens, dukes and such - this sextet comes by the honor naturally: it's their name!

Four - time International Bluegrass Music Association Entertainers of the Year-the association's premier annual recognition-The Earls of Leicester have spent five years bringing their interpretation of peak Flatt & Scruggs-1954 through 1965-to appreciative audiences craving bluegrass played, in the words of host Eddie Stubbs, "like it's supposed to be played."

There is no doubt that Jerry Douglas' vision struck a precise chord within bluegrass circles. With his award - winning compatriots-Album and Instrumental Group of the Year nods, 2 - time IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year Shawn Camp, Banjo Player of the Year Charlie Cushman, and four - time Bass Player of the Year Barry Bales-Douglas (ten time Dobro Player of the Year) along with Johnny Warren (fiddle) and Jeff White (mandolin)-who replaced Tim O'Brien after their debut-have released a pair of best - selling bluegrass discs and have drawn large audiences.

No doubt, people have a hankerin' for bluegrass played, sang, and presented in the most traditional of ways. There are hokey moments, no doubt, within banter ("Hamway") and song choices ("Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms," for one, certainly the "Martha White Theme"), but the vast majority of this almost 80 - minute set is untouchable.

Releasing a live album makes sense, especially considering fourteen of the included performances are songs not previously recorded by the group; along with nine additional numbers, The Earls of Leicester have essentially presented an album's worth of fresh, well - rooted Flatt & Scruggs' bluegrass.

With the lighter "Let The Church Roll On," "My Mother Prays So Loud in Her Sleep" is a gospel showcase as precise in vocal execution as it is in compelling intensity. Festival faves "Salty Dog Blues," "White House Blues," "Yonder Stands Little Maggie," and "I Ain't Gonna Work Tomorrow" were wisely saved for a live setting, where overly - familiar numbers shine best, while spot - on and vigorous renditions of "Black - Eyed Suzy," "Earl's Breakdown" and "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" leave other contemporary interpretations far behind.

Highlight performances include "You Can Feel It In Your Soul," "I'm Gonna Sleep With One Eye Open" and "Reunion in Heaven," which The Earls of Leicester had performed weeks earlier at Curly Seckler's gravesite service.

The audio is as crisp as one desires of modern bluegrass recordings, the instruments moving toward and from mics providing the mix of sounds we expect. The Earls of Leicester are a threat on all levels-lead and harmony singing, instrumentation, and live presentation.

One may speculate how much longer a bluegrass supergroup can continue on a path of revival. Given the uniform effervescence of "Live at the CMA Teater in the Country Music Hall of Fame," one suspects they should keep this going for a fair while yet.