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Ricky Skaggs draws from new and old

Little Nashville Opry, Nashville, Ind., July 26, 2008

Reviewed by C. Eric Banister

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With 2 releases in the last 6 months and over 12 years of bluegrass recordings, Ricky Skaggs had plenty of material to draw from in his seemingly annual return to the area.

Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder walked on to the stage and launched into a blistering instrumental that boldly announced that the audience was in for a night of traditional straight-ahead bluegrass. It was quickly evident why this band has won multiple International Bluegrass Music Association Bluegrass Band of the Year awards.

Skaggs welcomed the crowd after four songs and began to talk about his mother's cooking. From the between song patter, it is clear Skaggs is passionate about three things - food, God and bluegrass. His excitement bubbled up when talking about God's saving grace, the team of Scruggs, Flatt and Monroe and good breakfast gravy, made with your choice of "hogmeat." The crowd responded to all three like revival had come to town.

Using a brief history lesson, he introduced selections from his "Honoring the Fathers of Bluegrass, 1946-1947" release from earlier this year. The tight group ran through "Toy Heart," "Mother's Only Sleeping," "Why Did You Wander" and "Bluegrass Breakdown," the only instrumental recorded by the original bluegrass band. The band did an excellent job representing the older music, hewing closely to the original arrangements and solo structure with the exception of guitarist Cody Kilby's fretboard-burning solos.

Playing just shy of two hours, the whole band was in fine form as they headed into selections from Skaggs newest release, the Cracker Barrel exclusive "High Notes" featuring 10 of Skaggs 12 number 1 country hits. Before launching into the 'grassed up versions of "Cajun Moon," "Crying My Heart Out Over You" and "Highway 40 Blues" Skaggs mentioned his wish that they had named the album "Biscuits and Hits."

Skaggs and band also played many from the "Brand New Strings" album and several classics like "Pig in a Pen" and "Little Maggie."

Just before leaving the stage, banjo player Jim Mills performed a solo number from his newest solo album and fiddler Andy Leftwich performed a Django Reinhardt inspired fiddle tune from his solo album. Guitarist and harmony vocalist Paul Brewster performed a spotlight number while Kilby, bassist Mark Fain and new member, guitarist and vocalist Ben Helson brought up the back.

Even with a band like Kentucky Thunder, the show was firmly Skaggs' with very little interaction among the group or between the group and Skaggs beyond the music. Skaggs seemed to enjoy himself, but remained a little detached and business like. The night was one of music with little talking, and the crowd enjoyed it very much.