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Earl Scruggs

Earl Scruggs and Friends – 2001 (MCA)

Reviewed by Tom Netherland

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CDs by Earl Scruggs

Even in old age, magic yet arises from the masterful fingers of Earl Scruggs. As shown throughout the dozen tracks on Scruggs' first new album in 17 years, the king of the banjo polishes his crown with his still oh so familiar three-finger style.

Befitting a man of such stature, a cadre of superstars hop aboard and assist the old man. From pop-rock legend Elton John ("Country Comfort"), actor Billy Bob Thornton ("Ring of Fire") and country's Dwight Yoakam ("Borrowed Love"), nary a hint of Scruggs' bluegrass past surfaces. Except for that still exceptional banjo.

Though paired with modern-day music makers Melissa Etheridge ("The Angels") and Sting ("Fill Her Up"), Scruggs' time-worn style forms a beacon by which these superstars follow. Fellow country legend Johnny Cash ("Passin' Thru") included, Scruggs rules this roost like a proud papa overseeing his brood. Scruggs sings not a word, at times is encompassed by 21st century recording technology and all sorts of electronic doo-dads and gizmos, yet he pulls off that which only talent can in purveying power through the auspices of simplicity.

Time stands still for no one, and it sure hasn't for Earl Scruggs, either. Yet push aside visions of an aging legend, and make room for a man who's every bit the innovator that he was half a century ago.