After more than 35 years as a professional musician, legendary bluegrass artist Ricky Skaggs is still driven to push his creative boundaries. The multiple CMA, ACM and GRAMMY-award winning singer, who was recently inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame, returns with a vibrant new collection set for release on September 25. Teaming to co-produce the record with Gordon Kennedy (co-writer of Eric Clapton’s “Change the World”), Ricky showcases his timeless love for traditional bluegrass on the project, but also a passionate sense of adventure as he draws from world music influences as well.
The 11-song set, Music To My Ears, is firmly rooted in traditional sounds as it reaches from bluegrass to country to Southern Gospel. Crisp acoustic notes leap from the speakers as fiddle, banjo and Ricky’s lyrical mandolin power the tracks. The lonesome, “Blue Night,” a bouncing Appalachian song with slicing fiddle, jump starts the collection as Ricky’s vocal reaches high into the arching melodies. On “Things In Life,” the pace is quick while Ricky gives voice to unanswerable questions. I often sit and wonder why life has to be this way/but after all is said and done I’m sure God has his way, he sings to the bass line before deftly moving through a fluttering mandolin solo. Several of the songs have a Christian focus, including the Southern Gospel-influenced title-track that extolls the virtues of the Lord, peace and children’s laughter as “Music To My Ears.” Songs like these and the instrumental gem “New Jerusalem,” full of bright melodies and tight musical hooks, deliver on the classic sounds Ricky has long championed. However, several passages, including the subtly indigenous-sounding refrain of “Music To My Ears,” draw inspiration from other influences.
The peace of the nations is music to my ears, Ricky sings here with an engaging vocal shift as he introduces world music influences. A standout track “What You Are Waiting For” is a modern, contemporary piece offering a discussion on patience. Reverberating low-end harmonies through the song’s close pull from other cultures as elegant acoustic notes play on. On the mature, dare we say ‘worldly,’ “Nothing Beats A Family,” gentle flute and unorthodox melodic progressions move across boundaries. Be it blood or heavenly, nothing beats a family, Ricky sings in his ever-smooth delivery.
Ricky’s timeless voice shows up again and again on Music To My Ears. One of the album’s best songs, “You Are Something Else,” showcases breathtaking dynamics, most notably in the song’s pre-chorus. Nothing compares to the object of Ricky’s affection, even, Rows of red roses in bloom, as he sings tenderly through beautifully-crafted harmonies that light up the song. On the ¾ time, “Loving You Too Well,” Ricky laments through calculated melodies, I’m very troubled, I can’t sleep, this story I must tell / The worst mistake I ever made was loving you too well, while the song rolls along.
Music To My Ears is a complex album that ranges in sound and influence while maintaining its traditional core. Whether it’s Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees assisting on “Soldier’s Son” or the Doc Watson tribute “Tennessee Stud,” Ricky incorporates differing sounds and inspiration into his own unique style. The result is a project that will appeal to the staunchest traditionalists and also push Ricky’s vision forward.
Key Tracks – “Music To My Ears,” “New Jerusalem,” “Loving You Too Well,” “You Are Something Else”