Ricky Skaggs

Country Hits: Bluegrass Style

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Ricky Skaggs has reached a point in his career where he can pretty much do anything he wants to do musically. That’s the advantage of becoming an icon: what you do often isn’t as important as the fact that you’re still doing it. And Skaggs has already done plenty. A skilled instrumentalist on seemingly anything he touches (guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo) and possessing a soulful, lonesome tenor, Skaggs was a member of Ralph Stanley's legendary traditional bluegrass band (with Keith Whitley), took a turn at more progressive bluegrass with the Country Gentlemen and J.D. Crowe & the New South, fused traditional and progressive bluegrass in his own group Boone Creek, played in Emmylou Harris' band, and helped make Roses in the Snow one of her best albums, and when he finally went solo, he set the template for the New Traditionalist movement in modern country with a string of pop-inflected country hits in the '80s. In recent years, he has returned to his bluegrass roots while touring, but he feels comfortable in almost any genre, and his last album, 2010’s Mosaic, co-produced by Skaggs and Gordon Kennedy, found him singing gospel-inflected country songs with a pop and rock feel that had as much to do with the Beatles as it did Ralph Stanley. But at base, Skaggs is a traditional bluegrass musician, and it probably should come as no surprise that his newest release finds him returning to that first love. Mostly acoustic, pleasingly sparse, and with occasional steel guitar touches, Country Hits: Bluegrass Style does exactly what the title says. This is Skaggs revisiting some of his country hits from the '80s (along with side visits to bluegrass classics like Flatt & Scruggs' “Don't Get Above Your Raisin'") in a stripped-down, backporch bluegrass format. It works because Skaggs is Skaggs, and his signature country hits “I Don’t Care,” “Crying My Heart Out Over You,” “Heartbroke,” and “I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could” have all been recut for this project. None of these new versions exactly replace the original ones, but they show that Skaggs is comfortable with his legacy, and it’s telling that the new versions carry themselves well. Country Hits: Bluegrass Style doesn’t signal any kind of new direction for him and that may well be the album’s most comfortable strength.

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