“History of the Future” is the bluegrass recording we’ve been waiting for Ricky Skaggs to make. Over the past 30 years or so, Skaggs has established a track record for innovative, exciting and immaculately-executed music. His catalog reads like the Top Bluegrass Recordings Of All Time – his work as a teenager with Keith Whitley during their joint tenure with Ralph Stanley; “Remembrances and Forecasts” with the Country Gentlemen; J. D. Crowe and the New South’s Rounder 0044 (arguably the greatest bluegrass record of all time); two superb Boone Creek recordings; Emmylou Harris’s “Roses In The Snow” and the matchless “Skaggs & Rice,” to say nothing of his groundbreaking work as a mainstream country artist in the 1980s and a ton of session work with the likes of the Seldom Scene and Larry Sparks. All are absolutely essential for any serious collector of bluegrass music.
From a smoking version of “Shady Grove” with its refreshing twist on the usual chord changes, to two stunning visits to the Stanley Brothers’ catalog (“Your Selfish Heart” and “The Old Home”, with Paul Brewster blowing the roof off the high harmonies), Skaggs and company hit all the right notes – great singing, imaginative arrangements and matchless picking while mostly avoiding the trade-off of drive for speed.
Most welcome on “History of the Future” is the attention to the selection of material. There are newer songs like Keith Sewell’s “Too Far Down To Fall” and “Halfway Home Cafe” from Paul Overstreet, along with more familiar tunes like “Mother’s Only Sleeping” and “Rolling In My Sweet Baby’s Arms”. He even adds a killer remake of “One Way Track,” revived from his Boone Creek days. The blend of new and old highlight the whole range of the band’s impressive skills and melds “History of the Future” together into a well-focused, cohesive listening experience.
Perhaps the hardest expectations for an artist to meet are the ones they set themselves. Certainly expectations were high upon Skaggs’ return to playing bluegrass full time and yet both “Bluegrass Rules!” and “Ancient Tones” were released to mixed reactions, fostered largely by comparisons to his own previous work. “History of the Future” should lay all those issues to rest. Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder have put together a recording capable of standing alongside anything he’s ever done. Every bluegrass fan needs a copy.
Web site: www.skaggsfamilyrecords.com