RICKY SKAGGS is known as a perfectionist in the studio, so it probably shouldn't be surprising that the same precision playing and superb sound show up on his new live concert recording, "Live in London."
Skaggs has perhaps the most exciting band in country music. And the driving fiddle and banjo introduction that kicks off "Uncle Pen" makes it clear that Skaggs is proud to let this band do more than play backup.
Like Merle Haggard with his Strangers, Skaggs has assembled a sophisticated ensemble of instrumental virtuosos who can solo, play together and accent a vocal with economy and feeling. While Skaggs is known for his bluegrass roots, his repertoire is varied here and dramatizes the band's versatility. For example, on the western swing number "She Didn't Say Why," fiddler Bobby Hicks and pedal steel guitarist Bruce Bouton conjure up the bluesy feel of Bob Wills' bands.
Although the band is a delight, Skaggs is smart enough to never sacrifice a song for the sheer sake of instrumental play. Both "Heartbroke" and "Honey (Open That Door)" are memorable country-pop songs, and the spotlight stays on Skaggs' limber Tennessee tenor. If the album has a highlight, though, it's the hyper-paced "Country Boy." With Skaggs' own scintillating guitar runs leading the way, the band races through a tightly executed arrangement full of dramatic starts and stops and blistering solos.
RICKY SKAGGS -- "Live in London" (Epic FE 40103); appearing Saturday at Constitution Hall.