From the opening accapella vocal lines of “Shady Grove,” Ricky Skaggs’ History of the Future roars out of your speakers with full-throttle devil-be-damned, fire-breathing bluegrass. Clay Hess’ first guitar solo is so jaw-droppingly fast, clean, and musical that all a less skilled guitarist can do is smile and shake their head. Skaggs is correct in calling his band Kentucky Thunder, the Blue Angels of Bluegrass. These guys make premier fighter pilots look like slackers. Everyone is the band is that phenomenal.
Fast, too. The band is Andy Lefich on fiddle and mandolin, Bobby Hicks on fiddle, Paul Brewster on tenor vocals and rhythm guitar, Hess on lead guitar, Mark Fain on bass, Jim Mills on banjo, and Darrin Vincent on baritone vocals and rhythm guitar. Stuart Duncan’s fiddle and Jerry Douglas’ dobro add solos to a few cuts…as if the core band doesn’t have enough firepower.
Not only is the musicianship on History of the Future first-class, the song selection is equally inspired. Joe Maphis’ “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud Music,” Carter Stanley’s “The Old Home,” Bill Monroe’s “Mother’s Only Sleeping,” and the traditional bluegrass staple “Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” join Skaggs originals “The Road to Spenser” and “One Way Track” to make a CD that covers all the bluegrass bases.
History of the Future is a much slicker-sounding release than your average bluegrass CD. It’s perhaps a tad too clean in its digital perfection, and similar to many modern Nashville releases, lacks the down-home natural warmth of the best acoustic releases.
Despite its presumptuous title and clinically clean sound, History of the Future lives up to its moniker. It’s an instant classic bluegrass album that undoubtedly will be on everyone’s short list for a 2001 Grammy. See skaggsfamilyrecords.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sep. ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.