Starting about six years ago, a handful of sessions were held in a pair of Tennessee studios. Gathering were several of the finest contemporary bluegrass musicians representing the most influential groups of the day, among them Union Station, Mountain Heart, the Del McCoury Band, and Kentucky Thunder.
Alongside these powerful sidemen (a list which includes Dan Tyminski, Clay Hess, Jason Carter, Randy Kohrs, Ron Stewart, Barry Bales, and Adam Steffey) some of bluegrass music’s most influential and revered banjo players were assembled. The five-string players cut a huge swath through the premier bluegrass pickers: from Jim Mills, Dave Talbot, and Charlie Cushman, to J.D. Crowe, Joe Mullins, Kenny Ingram, and more.
All came together to bring to life a tribute to bluegrass music’s most influential banjo player, Earl Scruggs. It has been successfully argued that bluegrass music didn’t exist until Scruggs brought his distinctive three-fingered style of playing to Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys. The twelve tunes included on this very excellent collection signal confirmation that while Scruggs has passed, his influence and legacy remain secure.
While much is made of the speed and drive of bluegrass, as important is the ability to play within an established ensemble, to support other musicians as a tune is performed. It is this precision, this spark of creative camaraderie that is most apparent throughout this album.
Within a set featuring some of the greatest bluegrassers ever assembled playing the songs on which the music was built- including “Rueben,” “Earl’s Breakdown,” “Ground Speed,” and “Pike Country Breakdown”- there is no end to the highlights. Ron Block’s treatment of “Foggy Mountain Special” is spritely and Ron Stewart’s fiddle playing works beautifully within the arrangement. Larry Perkins brings the ‘down home’ to “Sally Goodin” and J.D. Crowe- himself a legend in bluegrass circles- shows no signs of slowing down while leading “Nashville Skyline Rag.”
Along with Tom Adams’ insightful notes and Tom Rozum’s beautiful cover art, the music contained within Foggy Mountain Special: A Bluegrass Tribute to Earl Scruggs is superior by any measure.