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Left Lane: Ricky Skaggs

Grammy-winning artist offers new take on vintage tunes

July 28, 2011
By RICH GIBSON , Times Leader

I'll never forget a telephone conversation I had with Ricky Skaggs a few years back.

The Kentucky native was gearing up for a Jamboree in the Hills appearance and expressed concern over his scheduled time slot.

"I'm wondering if anyone out there will be coherent on Sunday morning," I recall Skaggs laughing. "We'll just try and make the best out of it we can."

The house wasn't exactly rocking for Skaggs' 45-minute set of primarily bluegrass music with thousands of festival goers still in recovery mode from Saturday's lengthy proceedings.

The Lane is reasonably certain it mattered little to Skaggs and his band who likely hopped on their bus and hit the highway no worse for the wear.

It goes without saying a vast majority of Skaggs' performances are well-received and reviewed. A dozen consecutive Grammy-nominated albums command such status.

This week, Skaggs has cranked out yet another project, albeit one which returns to familiar territory.

"Country Hits, Bluegrass Style" is a alternate take on 14 Skaggs tunes which originally were presented in classic country style, recorded on his own family-run label.

In 1981, Skaggs broke through with his rookie country debut record, "Waitin' for the Sun to Shine." That album paved the way for his most successful decade as a conventional country musician.

Skaggs enjoyed a dozen No. 1 hits on country radio and in 1985 was named 'Entertainer of the Year' by the Country Music Association.

Considering his father passed down a mandolin to his son at the age of five, it seemed natural at some point, Ricky would make a full-blown transition to bluegrass.

That would occur during the wide-open 90s as classic country music faded to black with the arrival of today's generation of young guns, including Glen Dale native Brad Paisley.

Skaggs, meanwhile, hand-picked a group of elite session players who would go on to become 'Kentucky Thunder.'

Skaggs (mandolin, vocals) is joined here by Andy Leftwich (fiddle), Cody Kilby (guitar), Mark Fain (bass), Paul Brewster (tenor vocals, rhythm guitar), Eddie Faris (baritone vocals, guitar), and Justin Moses (background vocals, banjo).

Some of the most intense picking you'll ever come across can be absorbed on a frenetic updated version of "Country Boy" from one of Skaggs' early releases.

The record's opening track, "Heartbroke" was a 1981 No. 1 hit. Ditto "Crying My Heart Out Over You" and "Don't Get Above Your Raising."

"Highway 40 Blues" and "Honey (Open That Door)" are two other standout tracks on a CD full of well-executed rearrangements.

Lane readers who attended June's Three Rivers Arts Festival may have witnessed Skaggs and his band who headlined the main stage.

On his website, Skaggs lists upcoming play dates, including a pair of Dollywood Theme Park gigs next month at Pigeon Forge, Tennessee in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains.

IN ADDITION to Skaggs' release, Jason Michael Carroll has a new record out distributed by Cracker Barrel and available at the franchise's restaurant locations including St. Clairsville and the Highlands.

Also out this week is Eric Church's new disc "Chief" on the Capitol/Nashville label. Church previewed some tunes from the record earlier this month at Jamboree in the Hills.

Next week, Trade Atkins' latest CD ('Proud To Be Here') is released as well as a greatest hits package from southern rockers, the Drive-By Truckers.

Later in August, look for new CDs from Luke Bryan, the Eli Young Band, Jake Owen and Connie Smith. The latter is married to Marty Stuart who has a Wheeling gig scheduled Sept. 15.

Stuart produced Smith's record, her first since 1998. The couple combined to pen five of the record's 12 tracks.

In mid-September, Lady Antebellum release their much-anticipated third CD, "Own The Night," also on Capitol/Nashville.


FOLK-rocker Steve Earle and his top shelf band, the Dukes, are playing a trio of all-ages regional gigs, starting tonight at Columbus' Southern Theater. Earle's wife, Allison Moorer, is also on board.

Their tour moves to Kent for a Sunday evening performance at the historic Kent Stage, then plays the Pittsburgh suburb of Greensburg (Palace Theatre) next Wednesday.

Later in August (18th), Earle's son, Justin Townes Earle, stops at Mr. Small's Theater for an all-ages gig at 8 p.m.

Gibson may be reached at



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