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Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Ricky Skaggs

The Three Pickers – 2003 (Rounder)

Reviewed by George Hauenstein

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CDs by Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Ricky Skaggs

Two musical legends, Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson, and one legend-in-the-making, Ricky Skaggs, got together one evening in 2002 on a North Carolina stage for a made-for-PBS special. Throughout the evening, the trio was joined by guests Alison Krauss, Doc's grandson, Richard Watson, Gary Scruggs, Glen Duncan and others. As one might expect, the result is musical magic from start to finish.

The bulk of the recording focuses on Scruggs, Watson and Skaggs trading stories and backing each other on classic old time country and bluegrass tunes like "What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul," "What Is A Home Without Love" and "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down." Doc sings mostly lead and shows he's still in fine voice at the age of 80. One of the concerts' gems is a killer 'twin banjo' version of "Soldier's Joy," which is preceded by Scruggs describing the origins of his legendary 3-finger picking style and then dueting with Skaggs who plays clawhammer style.

Krauss joins for a trio of tunes including "Down In The Valley To Pray," though her contributions are mostly in a supporting role. Scruggs, with family and friends, shows he hasn't lost much to age with great renditions of "Earl's Breakdown," and "Doin' My Time." Skaggs and his crackerjack band, Kentucky Thunder, add "Ridin' That Midnight Train," and "Road To Spencer." All the musicians get together for the finale, which includes "Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms."

This is a delightful record. Both Watson and Scruggs are still masters at their respective crafts and Skaggs is both reverential yet skilled enough to hold his own with these two legends. It's one of the great concert records of the year.