Many of us couldn't wait to bash Skaggs upon his 1997 return to roots, Bluegrass Rules!
Poor Ricky, sniffle, couldn't record his beloved bluegrass for a dozen years because of, sob, "contractual obligations." Of course, Bluegrass Rules!
turned out to be an explosive record, and as usual, Skaggs had redeemed himself on the sheer basis of his talent. The 1999 follow-up, Ancient Tones
, is a worthy sequel, as Skaggs and his stellar Kentucky Thunder band (with Stuart Duncan and Jerry Douglas helping out) continue to pray at the feet of the gods--Monroe and Stanley--in fresh and exciting ways. The arrangements are more ambitious and in general more subtle than on Bluegrass Rules!
but are no less rewarding. Skaggs's own vocals scale new heights, especially on the chilling a cappella introduction to the eight-minute "Little Bessie," which then adds bodhran
and harp as if to illustrate bluegrass' connection to its Celtic roots. Maybe we'll get to bash him yet, but certainly not this time around. --Marc Greilsamer