Bill Monroe had already recorded some sixty songs with his brother Charlie Monroe for Bluebird/RCA Records in the late 1930s (as the Monroe Brothers), but while he was fronting his own group in the early '40s, he felt he wasn't quite getting the sound he was searching for in his head. Then in 1945 he added a singer and guitarist to his band named Lester Flatt, and later in that same year he added an extraordinary three-finger-styled banjo player named Earl Scruggs to the group, and suddenly that sound Monroe had been chasing was right there in front of him. Bluegrass. Rounded out by Chubby Wise and Howard Watts, this version of the Bluegrass Boys didn't get to record until almost a year later, but the rest, as they so often say, is history. This lovingly assembled album is Ricky Skaggs' attempt to pay homage to that amazing band and he leads his Kentucky Thunder ensemble through some of the songs that Monroe and company recorded in that first burst of sessions for Columbia Records. It's fitting that the only surviving member of that version of the Bluegrass Boys, the still astounding Earl Scruggs, is on hand here to help with the opening track, a fine version of "Goin' Back to Old Kentucky." Nothing replaces the original sides from 1946 and 1947, naturally, but these renditions, particularly on tracks like the lovely "When You're Lonely," the wise and cautionary "The Old Crossroad," and the blistering instrumental explosion of "Bluegrass Breakdown," gently and warmly remind just how innovative and fresh the Bluegrass Boys really were some sixty-plus years ago. They created the very template for bluegrass, and while modern players have stretched the boundaries a bit, bluegrass in the 21st century is still very much that long ago sound Monroe heard in his head.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett