by Teresa Lockhart
Drawing from an impressive well of talent in both bluegrass and country music, Ricky Skaggs plans to kick off 2011 with his “Treasure Chest” tour, featuring an assortment of riches, from his 12 No. 1 country hits to his blazing bluegrass to his latest venture, pop/contemporary gospel.
Skaggs has accomplished almost everything an artist or musician could desire. In addition to winning 14 Grammys, he was once a CMA Male Vocalist of the Year and a CMA Entertainer of the Year. He has also been named Billboard’s Artist of the Year and one of Musician Magazine’s Top 100 Guitarists of the Century.
But the artist refuses to rest on his laurels.
“There’s an old Scripture that talks about a wise man who takes from his treasure chest things old and new,” Skaggs says. “[With this tour] we have a band that can do everything both old and new. It will be a great way to showcase my 40+ years of making a living playing music.”
A pioneer in the music industry, Skaggs has never been afraid to march to the beat of a different drummer — or no drummer at all.
He shook up country music in the early ’80s when he persuaded Epic Records to abandon the Urban Cowboy sound, made popular by Barbara Mandrell and Eddie Rabbit, to return to more traditional country instruments and rhythms.
Then in 1997, as country music swayed to the influence of pop, Skaggs changed musical direction again.
“I sensed roots music was about to explode, and I felt like I needed to get back to the basics,” he says. “I let my drummer, steel guitar player, and piano player go. We trimmed down to an all-acoustic group and started playing bluegrass.”
His latest album, Mosaic, received two Grammy nominations in both the Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album of the Year and the Best Gospel Song of the year categories. Skaggs is also nominated in the Folk Music category for Ricky Skaggs Solo: Songs My Dad Loved. This marks the first time the artist has received a nomination in this category.
Venturing off the worn path is nothing new to Skaggs. In 2000, he shared the stage with the Vermont jam band, Phish, and in 2007 he released an album with rock musician Bruce Hornsby.But Mosaic may be Skaggs’ boldest endeavour yet. He once again returns to the basics, but this time he returns to the basics of his faith.
‘Mosaic’ may be Skaggs’ boldest endeavour yet.
All 13 songs convey a powerful, relevant message of Christianity. But the musical style is one most listeners may be surprised to hear. The album can be described as having a sound reminiscent of the Beatles. Skaggs credits Gordon Kennedy for laying the groundwork for the project. Kennedy wrote or co-wrote all of the songs. He also produced the album and played on some of the cuts. Like Skaggs, Kennedy has had an impressive music career.
He co-wrote the Eric Clapton hit “Change the World” with Tommie Sims and Wayne Kirkpatrick and was a member of the Christian rock band Whiteheart. He has also worked with numerous artists, including Garth Brooks and Bonnie Raitt.
In addition to the work of Kennedy, Mosaic also includes contributions from both Peter Frampton and George Beverly Shea, who was 101 at the time of the recording. The album’s liner notes also credit God for providing the sound of thunder in the song “Fire from the Sky.”
God’s presence is woven throughout the project. While the album projects a sound Skaggs describes as “marketplace music,” it can’t truly be labeled as church music or gospel music. It is, however, unmistakably Christian music. “I went into the studio to work on a new record. But this one was different,” he says. “After three or four days, I realized the roles had reversed — this record was working on me. The songs were working on me. The spirit of God was working on me, moving my heart and touching me emotionally … ”
Skaggs says the songs “Instead” and “Can’t Shake Jesus” are specific reminders of how Jesus does everything He sets out to do, even dying on the cross, His way of making a way for people to reconcile with God.
“Jesus did something that I could not do,” he says. “There is no way in the world I could ever pay my sins’ penalty. Yet He paid it for me.”
The title of the album also holds special meanings for Skaggs, musically, biographically, and spiritually.
On one level it refers to the many sounds interwoven throughout the songs. The full band includes mandolin, banjo, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, slide guitar, violin, bagpipe, hammer dulcimer, percussion, and Irish bouzouki.
On another level it reflects a picture of Skaggs’ musical journey. When he was just five years old, Skaggs played on stage with Bill Monroe, who later became his mentor. Then at age seven he played on the Martha White show with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.
During his extensive career, Skaggs was a member of several well-known bands, including those of Ralph Stanley, J.D. South, and Emmylou Harris. He formed his own band, Kentucky Thunder, and his own record company, Skaggs Family Records. But more importantly, on a deeper level, the album title refers the way individual lives, like small tiles, come together to create a big picture, a bigger purpose.
“The little pieces by themselves may not show you much, the true hidden purpose,” he says. “That’s like our lives with God. Individually, we’re nothing without Him. Jesus said, ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing.’
“But when we, those who love Christ, come together, then we become the picture of God the world needs to see.”
photo courtesy Skaggs Family Records
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