I suppose if there’s a down side to having a hit song, it’s that you’re stuck with it for the rest of your professional life. No matter if you played it 12,000 times; your next audience isn’t going to be happy until you’ve played it for the 12,001st time. Judging from his Country Hits Bluegrass Style CD, this has never been a problem for Ricky Skaggs, who, of course, had a slew of bluegrass-flavored country hits back in the 1980s.
On this, his latest “best-of” compilation, Skaggs embraces, revitalizes and reconfigures 14 of his most familiar titles with such vigor and imagination that he makes oldies like “Heartbroke,” “Country Boy,” “Highway 40 Blues” and “Cajun Moon” shine with new luster. Overall, Skaggs has remade these songs with at least a little bit more “bluegrassy” ambience than heard on the original hit country versions. But, as always, he brashly breaks out of the box now and then when he’s so inspired. Drums and subtle percussion adorn nearly every cut, while Paul Franklin’s pedal steel and Buck White’s sparkling piano can also be heard on various tracks. Jeff Taylor’s accordion embellishes an exuberant reprise of “Cajun Moon,” and Skaggs even enlists the Nashville String Ensemble on a lovely update of “Somebody’s Prayin’.”
Skaggs, who also produced this collection, called on stalwarts Andy Leftwich (fiddle and mandolin), Mark Fain (bass and Tic Tac), John Gardner (drums), Jim Mills (banjo) and Paul Brewster and Sharon and Cheryl White (background vocals on various tracks). Skaggs himself plays a little bit of everything throughout, including a few lead guitar solos and some piano.
And when it’s all said and done, he’s accomplished what is often nigh onto impossible: He’s taken the old and predictable and made it sound new and exciting all over again. (Skaggs Family Records, 200 Louise Ave., Hendersonville, TN 37077, www.skaggsfamilyrecords.com.) BA