Concert Review - Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder
Troy  Music Hall, February 26, 2006
Metroland, March 2, 2006
By Glenn Weiser

Down-Home-Fried Goodness
Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Feb. 26

When Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, lay dying in the hospital in 1996, it was famed country musician and fellow Kentuckian Ricky Skaggs who kept vigil at his bedside, handing him his beloved mandolin when Monroe wanted to play it. Finally, Monroe was too weak to pick, and the torch, as it were, passed on to the younger man. That year Skaggs left, as he describes it, “the desert of country music,” and with the record Bluegrass Rules, returned to the Promised Land of the music that he had played as a teenager with the Stanley Brothers. With his lightning-fingered musicians in tow last Sunday, the five-time Grammy Award winner delivered a bluegrass concert at a well-attended Troy Music Hall that was about as good as it gets.

Vocally, tenors own bluegrass, and Skaggs’ soaring voice ranks with those of Monroe, Red Allen, and Ralph Stanley. His agile mandolin playing, too, is on par with anyone’s in the genre. Moreover, sidemen Paul Brewster on rhythm guitar and tenor vocal, Cody Kilby on lead guitar, Andy Leftwich on fiddle, Jim Mills on five-string banjo, Darrin Vincent on archtop guitar and baritone vocals, and Mark Fain on string bass were all flawless. Not a note was sung off key or missed on an instrument. And considering that much of this music is improvised eight-to-the-bar soloing at breakneck tempos, that’s a marvel.

The show, a single 20-song set with two encores, mirrored Skaggs’ own career by starting out with classics from the early days of bluegrass, including “Mother’s Only Sleeping” and “Loving Another Man,” fast-forwarding to material by contemporary songwriters Harley Allen, himself, and others, and returning to old chestnuts like “Uncle Pen” and “Black-Eyed Susie.” All this was interspersed with his down-home soliloquies: His formidable Baptist mother raised him right because she beat him with an old-fashioned wooden switch for his youthful misbehavior. He knew the high-cholesterol joys of fried chicken cooked in lard with the skin left on. And, being a born-again Christian, he preached a bit, leaving this listener feeling less like a concertgoer than a vagrant in a Salvation Army soup kitchen waiting for the sermon to end so he could eat.

Picking the high points of the music isn’t easy; it was really just one long pinnacle. Still, in the opening song, “How Mountain Girls Can Love,” Cody Kilby fired off a stupefyingly fast, precise flatpicking guitar solo in which he used the open strings to rapidly jump up and down the neck, a technique he would employ to great effect all night. “Bluegrass Breakdown” was a rollicking instrumental in which the fiddle, banjo, guitar, and mandolin all took stunning solos, and Skaggs’ tenor vocals effortlessly conquered the high notes on “Little Maggie.” On the first encore, the group followed the longstanding country-music tradition of closing a concert with a sacred song, here a gospel quartet rendition of “Remember the Cross” backed only by guitar and mandolin before tacking on an uptempo “Shady Grove.”

Pickin,’ chicken, and mama’s switchin’—this was a night of red-state soul that had it all.
—Glenn Weiser

See the article on the Metroland website 
List of Metroland Stories by Glenn Weiser                          ©2006 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved. 


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