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Skaggs still rules

House of Blues, Cambridge, Mass., Feb. 4, 1999

By Jeffrey B. Remz

CAMBRIDGE, MA - Ricky Skaggs had it just right at the outset of his first show in the Boston area in years. "We're bluegrassmen," said Skaggs, who now is full speed ahead into bluegrass instead of country. "Welcome to the House of Bluegrass tonight."

And with that, Skaggs and his very fine backing band mixed it up between high lonesome vocals, hot instrumentals and several country numbers in a meaty 110-minute set before an unfortunately very noisy crowd.

Skaggs, touring in support of his brand new album, "Ancient Tones," played almost half of the new disc. The album includes several originals and also those penned by bluegrass heroes like Bill Monroe and Carter Stanley.

Skaggs also played many songs from his last album,' "Bluegrass Rules," his return to bluegrass after years of doing country and in recent years having little to show for it, commercially anyway.

Skaggs clung to the Monroe/Stanley Brothers school of bluegrass playing "Mighty Dark to Travel, a "Mr. Monroe" song from the new disc and "Lonely Lonesome Night" from the Stanleys.

And Skaggs tossed in some of his own songs as well, such as "Connemara," an instrumental romp.

Skaggs' love for bluegrass was apparent throughout. He was hot on his mandolin and sang well. He also was ably backed on harmonies and backing vocals by Paul Brewster.

The two stalwarts of the band were long-time fiddler Bobby Hicks and banjoman Jim Mills. Both spiced song after song with Mills getting to play a few songs off his recent album as well.

The closing set instrumental "Get Up John," nominated for a Grammy for best instrumental song, was a case in point. The Monroe song was very lively with excellent playing from Mills and Hicks. Skaggs added his mandolin on the barnburner.

The House of Blues may be best known for the blues, but thanks to Skaggs, on this night, bluegrass once again ruled.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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