The Earls of Leicester, New Bluegrass Royalty

The Earls of LeicesterIf you stumbled here through a Google search for information about British bluebloods, you landed in the wrong place. But if you’re looking for bluegrass royalty, here it is.

Musically, the Earls of Leicester, some of the best pickers of this or any other generation, are direct descendents of Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and their band, the Foggy Mountain Boys.

I’m assuming Bluegrass Today readers are familiar with Prince Lester and Prince Earl. Do yourselves a favor and don’t skip this self-titled CD, thinking you know the Flatt & Scruggs catalog and style and don’t need to hear anything but the originals.

But, if you know someone who doesn’t know bluegrass—a young picker, maybe—do that person a favor and gift him or her with this CD. It’s one of the best introductions to bluegrass that you can find. It will not only open new ears to some first-rate picking and singing, but may prompt that person to circle back to Flatt & Scruggs themselves.

That’s what you call a win-win, for those listeners and for the future of bluegrass itself. And it’s one of the main reasons Jerry Douglas assembled an all-star cast to pull off this project.

“We have a younger audience for this kind of music now, and it’s important to me that the listeners understand the origins of what they are hearing,” said the man who plays on and produced the CD.

Douglas, who grew up listening to F&S, developed the idea of a tribute record over the years as he became a great Dobro player and settled into a long-term home with Alison Krauss and Union Station. Fortunately, he found the time to make his dream come true and he convinced great players to join him: Charlie Cushman on banjo and guitar; Tim O’Brien on mandolin; Barry Bales on bass; and Johnny Warren on fiddle. (His father, Paul, held the fiddle slot with Flatt & Scruggs for a long time).

>All that was left was finding someone to fill Lester’s shoes at the lead vocalist. Douglas was smart to ask his wife for advice because the first name out of her mouth was Shawn Camp. He’s the perfect fit.

The songs, themselves, are not at all surprising. They’re mainstays from the F&S catalog, and if you asked a dozen DJs to list Flatt & Scruggs standards, most of the 14 selections here would be mentioned six or eight times—or more.

What’s special is the care and pride that went into each of them. Sure, you expect a band of superstars to be fantastic. But these six guys go far beyond that superlative. I’ve heard I’ll Go Stepping Too, Shuckin’ the Corn, On My Mind and Dim Lights, Thick Smoke countless times, by Flatt & Scruggs and in covers by many other artists. But the approach here is fresh and crisp, faithful to the original but not at all feeling old and tired.

For most of us, the CD will be the only chance to hear this music. The players, busy with their regular gigs, will tour only sporadically. But, cross your fingers. Douglas hints that the Earls just might turn to a new project down the road.

Who knows, there might be a little kid out there who will hear the Earls some day—the way Douglas heard Flatt & Scruggs—and will grow up to honor them with a tribute album of his or her own. It wouldn’t be far-fetched at all, given the quality of the artists gathered here to pay tribute to some of bluegrass music’s first-generation pioneers.

 

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, songwriter and upright bass player. He has spent much of his career as a wire service political reporter, including nearly 14 years with The Associated Press and a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and has recently retired as senior editor for Kiplinger Washington Editors.