Reviewed by Paul Keeble
When I saw the CD cover I was immediately intrigued by the combination of Ricky Skaggs, a bluegrass and country mandolin virtuoso, sharing a stage with legendary pianist and songwriter Bruce Hornsby, who is from a blues and jazz background. Having listened, I have two words to say: it works! After a brief intro where Skaggs jokes that the audience shouts of "Brooooce" are boos, the band rips into "How Mountain Girls Can Love", a fast bluegrass number with scorching solos from both main protagonists. This is followed by "Toy Heart", slower but still chugging along at quite a clip. With verses interspersed with solos from various band members, this song has a stop and restart which, from the comment following ("It's different every night folks") I think was unplanned, but shows the spontaneity of the performance. And so the template is set for an incredible one-off concert. Lead vocals are shared between Hornsby, Skaggs and other band members and solos traded between mandolin, piano, violin, guitar and banjo, as songs are interpreted and stretched, in two cases into extended workouts of over10 minutes which are all meat and no gristle. The songs are mostly traditional or older country and bluegrass standards (such as "Darling Corey") along with several Bruce Hornsby compositions including the lovely "Gulf Of Mexico Fishing Boat Blues" and his big hit from the '80s "The Way It Is", here given an energetic reinterpretation. Here, as on the album as a whole, Hornsby's bluesy playing and soloing fits neatly in what is essentially a bluegrass setting. The all-acoustic band are incredibly tight and a foot-tapping rhythmic groove is effortlessly achieved throughout without the need of a drummer or any percussion instrument. The playing and picking are precise - even on the really fast stuff - and the concert is well recorded, capturing the mix of instruments clearly without losing the energy and dynamism of the performance. This is a band working well together and having a ball doing so, as evidenced by the sprinkling of off-mic comments such "yea", "whoo", "come on now", and some nice between-song banter and humour ("Here's an instrumental for you. Instrumentals are ones we don't sing on, in case some folks are reviewing the show." Thanks Ricky). Listening to a group of fine musicians using and enjoying their God-given talents brings a smile, lifts the spirit and prompts me once again to thank the Creator for the gift of music.
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