Live From the Charleston Music Hall - Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder

Skaggs comes alive

Live at The Charleston (S.C.) Music Hall (Skaggs Family Records)

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder

By Bob Mitchell

An eight-time Grammy winner and named by Billboard Magazine as one of the most important artists in the last 50 years, Skaggs is no stranger to Bluegrass. His latest release is an enjoyable, high-powered project that captures that special electricity generated when great concerts are recorded live.

This is a forceful recording that opens with an unrestrained "Black Eyed Susie" and a blazing guitar solo from Cody Kilby. Skaggs refers to Kilby as "a gun for hire ... a killer bee," and he is.

In the style of Bluegrass Rules (an IBMA album of the year), Skaggs' latest effort also pays homage to the first generation of Bluegrass with fiery covers for Bill Monroe's "Uncle Pen" and "Get Up John." Additionally, there is a scorching rendition of the Flatt and Monroe classic, "Why Did You Wander," with outstanding work from Jimmy Mills on banjo. The Stanley Brothers are recognized with a barn-burning "Pig in a Pen," and "How Mountain Girls Can Love," and a captivating waltz, "On A Lonesome Night," featuring the high lonesome sound a bluegrass fan loves to hear.

Other highlights include "Amanda Jewell," a straight-ahead Bluegrass original from Skaggs, a tune named for his daughter and played like Monroe. The fiddle playing is incredible on this track as well as "On A Lonesome Night" and "Crossville," another Skaggs original. (Unfortunately, the liner notes do not specify if the fiddler is Andy Leftwich or Bobby Hicks.)

Live at The Charleston Music Hall also contains a loving tribute to mothers. "I Heard My Mother Call My Name" is a beautiful gospel number with great harmony and "Somewhere Nice Forever" is a poignant song of encouragement about death and cancer. The project concludes with concert encores, including of Harry Chapin's powerful "Cat's In The Cradle," with its timeless message about the need for fathers to spend time with their children.

On a five-point scale of excellence, this release is a sizzling six.