Skaggs & Rice

Tony Rice & Ricky Skaggs

Sugar Hill, 1980

REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones


There are some albums that are required listening in the canon of their genre. With that in mind, I am prepared to state that Skaggs & Rice is every bit as required listening in the Americana field as Sgt. Pepper is in classic rock. The pairing of these two super talents in 1980 added to the influence that both artists have in their field, but it also preserved for a new generation several songs that would have otherwise grown old and dusty. 

All of the tracks here have four seemingly simple components: Tony Rice's vocals and his guitar and Ricky Skaggs' vocals, his mandolin, and his guitar. This might seem thin, but the execution and the final result is a masterful performance that creates an amazingly full sound. The tracks are mostly traditional, like the dying man's lament in "Bury Me Beneath The Willow" or from bluegrass sages like Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers. But the outcome is not some warmed-over traditional music. It is new and vibrant. "More Pretty Girls Than One" is indeed the standout track. Here, both Tony and Ricky play guitar, with Rice lighting the intro on fire in a style of playing reminiscent of Doc Watson. This is a fun track, and both musicians sound like they are enjoying the music as they go. Likewise, the instrumental "Tennessee Blues" showcases how good each of these guys are on their respective instruments.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

This album seamlessly blends in a few spiritual tunes along with the other secular tracks. The best of these by far is "Where The Soul Of Man Never Dies." This song is truly ancient by today's standards, but it is still commonly sun in traditionalist churches across the U.S. Skaggs and Rice give it new life, tailoring a smooth quickstep rhythm guitar and perfect harmony between the two singers. On "Talk About Suffering," they lay their instruments down for a great a cappella track.  And the Bill Monroe penned "Old Crossroads" is powerful.

Like many others who listen to his work, I am always impressed by Tony Rice's guitar playing.  But here, because it is only guitar and mandolin, the listener can hear how incredibly virtuosic he is – not only on the complex solo breaks, but also in the way in which he performs rhythm guitar in the background while singing. A strum is not a simple strum to this man. There are walking bass lines, quick riffs and syncopated patters that are all done so tastefully and understated as to almost miss detection. He isn't trying to set the world on fire with every note he plays, but when you really listen, he is on a whole other level. Skaggs for his part makes the mandolin sound like an effortless instrument. His solid soaring tenor seems just as effortless, although few can reach the register that he can. At this point in his career, he was just on the cusp of his successful run of country albums, but he has always returned to this Americana/bluegrass tradition.

If you have any interest in the Americana music tradition, this album is a must.

Rating: A

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© 2015 Curtis Jones and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sugar Hill, and is used for informational purposes only.