This review is a contribution from Marybeth Altizer, who we hope will be a regular correspondent.
Ricky Skaggs, one of bluegrass’ most talented musicians, and Bruce Hornsby, an expressive pop vocalist and pianist, first paired their talents six years ago for the appropriately titled album, Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby.
They are reunited for Cluck Ol’ Hen, a live album released this week, which was recorded during a previous tour together. Bruce and Ricky will also have a string of live performances in support of the new project this Fall.
I have listened to my share of bluegrass albums, and this one became a favorite upon my first listen for a number of reasons. Its vibrancy resonates long after the last song ends. The playfulness you hear between Skaggs and Hornsby puts you on the stage with them, and brings the emotion of bluegrass music alive and back to better days in an instant. The soulful, traditional mix of music opens the box for this genre, allowing other music tastes to come on in and test the water. I think you’ll like the temperature.
Knowing that Bruce Hornsby has appeared on albums by Bob Dylan and Stevie Nicks, along with being a part of The Grateful Dead, is sure to make some curious to how this album will blend, as did the previous. The styles of Skaggs and Hornsby are so different that it would seem to take hot wax to make something like this melt together. But that’s exactly what happened. When these two artists start making music together, things heat up real quick.
Grass fans everywhere will enjoy the Bill Monroe classic Toy Heart, in which Hornsby’s jazzy piano breaks out into mountain music. The Dreaded Spoon adds a splash of humor, as you can clearly hear how these two artists love what they do, and love to have fun doing it. Hornsby’s The Way It Is, which topped the American music charts in 1986, rings with the same controversial truths that some things will never change, although with this rendition, proved itself wrong. The traditional title track, Cluck Ol’ Hen, is an all-time favorite for many, and will be sure to provide many more hours of foot tapping pleasure here.
This is not your everyday, run-of-the-mill bluegrass album. This is entertainment at its finest, with two of the most intriguing musical talents you will ever find. The vocals are flawless, the music dances with hints of folk and memories that get pulled out of nowhere. Ricky Skaggs is absolutely one of the best when it comes to the mesmerizing chop of the mandolin, and Bruce Hornsby brings a new, nostalgic flow to bluegrass that I’m sure will make this album a favorite. And that’s just the way it is.
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