Solo: Songs My Dad Loved
Skaggs Family Records
4 stars (out of 5)
When Skaggs returned to bluegrass music after a highly succesful career in the country field, he kept Kentucky Thunder as the name of his band. Even though the personnel has changed, his use of the band setting to showcase his own virtuosity, as well as that of his elite sidemen, has not changed. Until now.
On this loving tribute to his father, Skaggs plays a number of instruments – acoustic guitar, resonator guitar, round hole and f-hole mandolins, mandocello, octave mandolin, steel-string and gut-string fretless banjos, fiddle, piano, bass, Danelectro electric baritone guitar and percussion – achieving a simplicity and intimacy over 13 tracks and 40 minutes approaching that on Skaggs’ masterpiece duet album with Tony Rice.
Fred Rose’s “Foggy River,” with its loping rhythm and effortless vocals, serves as a great tone-setter for the set. It’s followed by “What is a Home Without Love?,” one of two Monroe Brothers tunes — the other being “This World is Not My Home” — that play to Skaggs’ strengths as a harmony singer and honor the fact that Hobart Skaggs played in a similar duo with his brother Okel before Okel died in World War II.
Skaggs includes three instrumentals here and each is a pleasant surprise: “Colonel Prentiss,” with some great, greasy old-time fiddlin’, the sprightly drop-thumb banjo workout “Pickin’ in Caroline,” and “Calloway,” a nice and easy fiddle and banjo tune.
Roy Acuff’s “Branded Wherever I Go” and a Stanley-inspired take on “Little Maggie” get a straightforward treatment from Skaggs’ signature tenor voice, while the novelty song “I Had But 50 Cents” Skaggs sings with a twinkle in his eye.
It’s no surprise that Skaggs connects most viscerally with the gospel material: the gently menacing “Sinners, You Better Get Ready,” a retelling of Pslam 23 “Green Pastures in the Sky,” the call-and-response “God Holds the Future in His Hands” and “City That Lies Foursquare,” on which Skaggs’ keen embodies the yearning for Heaven.
by Aaron Keith Harris