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Ricky Skaggs
Ancient Tones
Skaggs Family Records CD SKFR 1001, 1999 (41:20)

Ricky does Bill

Tom Netherland

Bill Monroe lay on his deathbed. He was worried. Not so much about dying, but about his craft. He didn't want it to die with him. Known as the Father of Bluegrass, Monroe essentially invented bluegrass. Ricky Skaggs visited him often in his last days. During one his last, Skaggs noticed a look of consternation on the man he calls his "musical father."

Monroe asked Skaggs to not let the music die. Skaggs promised he wouldn't. He hasn't.

Ricky Skaggs' voice was made for bluegrass. Kentucky born and bred, it seems almost natural that the one-time musical prodigy would eventually vacate the much more limiting world of country music for the bastion of bluegrass.

"Ancient Tones," Skaggs' second bluegrass release on his Skaggs Family Records, is full of eye-popping twists and turns and tones. All bluegrass, all encompassing.

Skaggs included but one original, an instrumental, "Connemara," that he wrote at his son's high school graduation. Like Monroe, Skaggs' instrument of choice is the mandolin (though he also plays a mean guitar). His pristine picking, whether lighting fast or slow and sinewy, rivets a sense of genius at work into the listener.

Several of Monroe's tunes are given fresh, though faithful, readings. Skaggs, in the album's liner notes, said "Mr. Monroe could hear sounds that no one else could hear." Amen. His cover of Monroe's "Walls of Time," alone, makes the case. With a fine poet's ability to capture the moment, Monroe perfectly caught the feel of loneliness in the song. Skaggs' rendition, with his nearly equal high tenor, steps reverently in the path trod by Monroe. Little deviation, but similar results.

Rambunctious tunes (Carter Stanley's "How Mountain Girls Can Love") and purely fun bluegrass rave-ups ("Pig In A Pen") mix well with more serious fare such as Monroe's "It's Mighty Dark To Travel."

"Little Bessie," a traditional tune long a part of American mountain culture, is given an almost haunting treatment by Skaggs. Partly performed a cappella, the song's Celtic sound hearkens to bluegrass' roots in Scotland and Ireland.

Bill Monroe can rest easy. His baby kicks and bawls under Skaggs' watch.

songs  Walls of Time · Lonesome Night · How Mountain Girls Can Love · Mighty Dark to Travel · Carolina Mountain Home · Connemara · Coal Minin' Man · I Believed in You Darlin' · Pig in a Pen · Give Us Rain · Boston Boy · Little Bessie

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