Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby
Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby
This is one of the rockinest bluegrass albums to come along in quite awhile. Ricky Skaggs doesn’t have a damn thing to prove to any listener at this point, which frees him up to have fun, and he’s clearly doing so here. This collaboration with pianist/singer-songwriter Bruce Hornsby is a rollicking, joyful affair that plays like a particularly well-recorded jam session. The opening cut, “The Dreaded Spoon,” is a weird tale of ice cream that’s probably better suited, given its lyrical silliness and overall romping feel, to the jam band audience that’s embraced Hornsby since his pop career dried up. Similarly, the closing cut is a cover of Rick James’s immortal “Super Freak” that doesn’t quite gel—mandolins, for all their multifarious virtues, just aren’t funky. But everything in between is beautiful, vibrant and sure to please roots obsessives, casual country fans and just about anybody else. A great record.
Q&A WITH RICKY SKAGGS
When you make a genre-crossing album like this one, do you worry about upsetting the hardcore “Bill Monroe never woulda done it like that” types?
I think there is always acceptance for good music, anywhere, anytime. I’ve always tried to make music that would be good 25 years from now, as Mr. Monroe’s music has. I’ve honored him in everything I’ve tried to do musically. Honestly, I’ve got to the point where I feel like I don’t have anything to prove to anyone anymore, so I just want to keep making great music, music that I like.
Was this basically a jam session, or did you write together, or did each man bring in material—how did the album come together?
We both had ideas and songs. I kind of waited for Bruce to send me his ideas before I jumped in and said what I wanted out of it. I do bluegrass for a living, so I wanted to give him an opportunity to be in the production process. When we got together for the first tracking day I could tell it was going to be a great project. Then I started turning him on to some old mountain music guys like Roscoe Holcomb, Dock Boggs, and Clarence Ashley. He really loved how Roscoe sang and played and wanted to work up a couple of his songs. It was funny, when the Nashville Community heard that we were recording, we started getting songs that sounded very ’80s pop, thinking I was producing an album on Bruce—just the opposite happened. We went backwards to a deep well of roots music instead of trying to go for radio hits. As a matter of fact, the word “radio” was never mentioned in the studio, we just wanted to do some great music that we both thought was cool. One new Nashville song did make the cut, a Phil Madera and Gordon Kennedy song called “Come On Out.” It’s a very spiritual song with a deep personal meaning.
Was the version of “Super Freak” your idea or Bruce Hornsby’s?
The Freak was totally Bruce’s idea. When we first started talking about a bluegrass album years ago, he mentioned that song to me, I thought he was kidding. But he was dead serious. We had a lot of fun working it up for public consumption.