Rounder Records 11661-0638-2
With the passing of Earl Scruggs in March of this year, there will doubtless be any number of well-deserved tribute projects released honoring him for his role in popularizing the five-string banjo. It is hard to imagine any that could be more appropriate than this 12-cut compilation produced by Tim Austin, featuring 12 of the finest proponents of Scruggs-style active today, on compositions which have become Scruggs icons. Austin has also recruited a stellar supporting cast that shares equally in the presentation of the music: Dan Tyminski, Adam Steffey, Randy Kohrs, Cody Kilby, Clay Hess, Wyatt Rice, Ben Issacs, Barry Bales, Dennis Crouch, Ron Stewart, and Jason Carter.
The CD opens with David Talbot performing “Flint Hill Special,” followed by Jim Mills on Earl’s transition (to three-finger-style at age ten) tune “Reuben.” While I’m sure no one was admonished to “play it just like Earl,” that clearly is the goal here for the banjoists on a good portion of each cut, and it is amazing how well each ensemble captures the Foggy Mountain Boys sound, while still allowing room for creativity.
Ron Block serves up “Foggy Mountain Special,” Charlie Cushman leads out “Randy Lynn Rag,” and Larry Perkins and Ron Stewart (banjo and fiddle, respectively) open “Sally Goodin” with “just the fiddle and the banjo.” Stewart picks up the banjo to do “Pike Country Breakdown” (with some especially interesting reso-guitar licks by Kohrs), Tom Adams does “Foggy Mountain Rock” (and nails the Scruggs three-finger sound using just two, an impressive display of adaptation), and J.D. Crowe performs what has become a signature for him, Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline Rag.”
Joe Mullins sounds like Earl reincarnated on “Earl’s Breakdown.” Tony Trischka tackles “Steel Guitar Rag” (a tune never recorded by Scruggs directly, but performed on a taped show). Kenny Ingram plays “Ground Speed” and gives you the same chills you felt the first time you heard Earl’s version on the Foggy Mountain Banjo album. And Craig Smith brings it home appropriately with “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”
The banjo work here is uniformly excellent—a fine, tasteful, exciting, and appropriate tribute to the man who not only did so much for the five-string, but for bluegrass music as a whole. And special kudos should also go to Ron Stewart for providing superb fiddling on almost every cut and doing so much to establish the sound; Randy Kohrs and Adam Steffey for their contributions; and Dan Tyminski who contributed on every cut.
This project was recorded over a two-year period from September 2006 to February 2008. It does not say in Tom Adams’ excellent and extensive liner notes whether Earl heard the finished product. He certainly would have appreciated the love and gratitude that inspired this demonstration of appreciation for his work, and almost as certainly he would be happy to know this release could very well help inspire a whole new generation of banjo players captivated by the Scruggs sound. (Rounder Records-Concord Music Group, 100 N. Crescent Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210, www.rounder.com.)AW