In a few short years Ricky Skaggs has recreated himself in the image of his mentor and hero, bluegrass legend Bill Monroe. His latest release, Brand New Strings, offers a more lyrical take on bluegrass coupled with some "new-traditional" country material. Here we hear a slightly softer more pop-influenced version of his latest bluegrass-boy incarnation that may rope in some of Ricky's older country fans back into the fold.
Beginning with Rusty Kershaw's tune "Sally Jo" Skaggs performs material by Guy Clark, Keith Sewell, Don Rollins, Shawn Camp, and Tony Mullins. Skaggs adds four original tunes, including a pair of instrumentals "1st Corinthians 1:18," and "Monroe Dancin'" which have a classic bluegrass that feels at least fifty years old. Another Skaggs' original "My Father's Son" covers the familiar bluegrass territory of family, mining, and faith. Although the album isn't a theme or concept album per se, Skaggs' feelings about family and his faith pervade every song.
Members from Skaggs' extraordinary touring band, Kentucky Thunder, accompany him on every cut. The current roster includes Mark Fain on bass, Cody Kilby on guitar, Andy Leftwich on mandolin and fiddle, and Jim Mills on banjo. Other fine musicians including Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Brian Sutton on guitar, Johnny Hyland on electric guitar, and Rebecca Lyn Howard, Paul Brewster, Keith Sewell, Darrin Vincent, Sharon White, and Shawn Lane on harmony vocals fill out the CD's credit list. The sound here rates as solid but not breathtaking. Everything is clear but at times a bit too smooth and slick to be totally involving.
Brand New Strings doesn't break new ground. Instead it mines with increased fervor and commitment the musical terrain where Skaggs has long staked his claim. If you have enjoyed Ricky Skaggs' last couple of albums, you will certainly enjoy Brand New Strings. If not, well, God bless you anyway.