Does the world really need another version of "Shady Grove"?" Ricky Skaggs apparently thinks so; he opens History of the Future with his rendition of the bluegrass standard. But if there's any guy who can cover such an over-covered tune, and make it work, it's Skaggs. His version includes a slightly different arrangement, backed by rickety percussion and, of course, Kentucky Thunder's instrumental fireworks. Another step away from Skaggs' past as Nashville pretty boy and country-pop star is another step deeper into his bluegrass roots. His vocals are just as fresh as ever, and that creative mandolin playing transcends that of his hero Bill Monroe. Traditional tunes like "Dim Lights Thick Smoke" and "Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms" are performed with more than ample respect for tradition, while more modern tunes such as "Too Far Down to Fall" and "Halfway Home Café" hint of Skaggs' Nashville career. Yet, like the previous bluegrass releases with Kentucky Thunder, he mixes both without sacrificing anything. From start to finish, this sounds like one band performing a variety of songs, none of which sound out of place. Add your token instrumental (the Irish-flavored "Road to Spencer") and a token waltz (the Stanley Brothers' "Your Selfish Heart") and you have a quintessential modern bluegrass release. Everything is just so perfect that it's easy to dismiss it as too slick, but Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder are able to make the music soulful too. Now that's perfect.
AllMusic Review by Scott Cooper