Bill Monroe is often cited as the man who gave birth to bluegrass, and his contribution to the genre simply can't be overestimated, but one can reasonably argue that Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs had nearly as much to do with the growth of the music as Monroe (they certainly played a huge role in popularizing the revved-up acoustic style), and Scruggs more than anyone changed the role of the banjo in bluegrass, pioneering his own brand of fingerpicking that would come to supplant the clawhammer style as the dominant approach to the instrument. Jerry Douglas, widely acknowledged to be the finest dobro player in the game, is a serious Flatt & Scruggs fan, and he's created a remarkable fan's gesture by bringing together a handful of superb pickers to pay homage to his heroes. Douglas, noted guitarist and singer Shawn Camp, ace banjo player Charlie Cushman, Hot Rize founder and mandolin master Tim O'Brien, gifted fiddler Johnny Warren, and longtime Alison Krauss sideman and bassist Barry Bales team up as the Earls of Leicester on this album, playing 14 classics from the Flatt & Scruggs songbook in the classic style. It's certainly a pleasure to hear six players this strong playing music they clearly love, and everyone on board has a superb touch and a sincere appreciation of the material, especially Douglas, Cushman, and Camp. The Earls of Leicester is a loving tribute, re-creating the sound and feel of some of bluegrass' most influential and timeless music, but there is one real problem with this album: the players, great as they are, only bring so much of their personality to these songs, and while these performances are excellent, the Flatt & Scruggs originals were also excellent as well as being of massive historical importance. Which is to say that you might do just as well to get a good collection of classic Flatt & Scruggs sides as listen to this, and the players on board might just tell you the same thing. As a tribute, The Earls of Leicester is nearly flawless, and this may encourage some younger bluegrass fans to dig into the Flatt & Scruggs catalog, but as far as having a mind and a character of its own, these sessions leave a certain amount to be desired.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming