When I first heard that Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby were collaborating on an album, I thought that was a surprising, yet interesting combination.
Skaggs, a bluegrass virtuoso if ever there was one, is famous for his delicate skill on the strings and quintessential down-home style. Hornsby, on the other hand, is best known for his eloquent piano playing on more poppy adult contemporary favorites, including “The Way It Is” and “Mandolin Rain.”
Blending these two styles, I thought, would yield a unique musical product, which is what piqued my interest in the first place. I was very disappointed when I listened to the album and found that it was nothing more than a bluegrass CD that happened to have a guest musician.
Skaggs’ and Hornsby’s voices are so similar, it’s nearly impossible to tell who is singing and when; it sounds like Skaggs voice throughout. That in itself wouldn’t be so bad, except that the banjo and mandolin are so overpowering, you also cannot hear Hornsby on the piano on most songs.
The album also features a handful of covers, most notably Hornsby’s “Mandolin Rain” and Rick James’ “Superfreak.” Yes, that’s right, a bluegrass version of “Superfreak,” so surprising that it literally freaked me out. Somehow the words “she’s a very freaky girl” coming out of Skaggs’ mouth just seems icky.
Similarly, his minor-key rendition of “Mandolin Rain” takes a song of fond remembrance and makes it almost mournful. Listening to it, I couldn’t help but think that it would’ve fit well on the Cold Mountain soundtrack. It really surprised me that Hornsby not only gave his blessing to this cover, but also played on it. When he and The Nitty Gritty Band did a bluegrass version of his “The Valley Road,” it was bright and really a tribute to Honsby’s original. I can’t say the same for Skaggs’ take.
While the musicianship throughout the CD was excellent, as I would expect it to be from two seasoned pros, I would expected to hear more of each others’ distinctive styles rather than having them blend together so completely. For me, this album was a let-down.