It's not surprising that in 1989, the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Recording was won by a song on "Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Volume 2," by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. What is unusual is the song that received the honor was a re-working of Bruce Hornsby's pop hit "Valley Road," complete with Hornsby playing piano. Many bluegrass purists were horrified by the choice, and a decade later, the subject still provokes arguments. But as VOA's Katherine Cole reports, not all traditionalists were outraged.
In fact, that unusual choice set the groundwork for a new duet album from the unlikely pairing of Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby. It opens with "The Dreaded Spoon," a story that will be all too-familiar to those with friends who say "I'll just have a little taste of yours …."
Pianists are not usually a welcome addition to a bluegrass band. Most traditionalists insist that only acoustic guitars, mandolins, banjos, fiddles and bass appear, with the dobro getting grudging acceptance. But piano? No way!
Fortunately, Ricky Skaggs, who usually plays very traditional-style bluegrass, doesn't feel the same way. He says the idea for this duet record springs from a tribute album he recorded a few years ago called Big Mon, Ricky Skaggs And Friends Sing The Songs Of Bill Monroe. Bruce Hornsby jumped at the chance to take part, and the two were so pleased with the end result that they decided to record a duet album one day. The result is simply titled Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby, and is a mix of new songs and old, some with vocals, and others, like "Stubb" are instrumentals.
The vocal tracks reflect the interplay that you hear in "Stubb." Some song find Ricky singing lead, and you'll hear Bruce Hornsby in front on others. The vocals include a reworking of Bruce Hornsby's big hit, "Mandolin Rain", that works so well you may forget what the original sounds like.
Making a good "duo" is harder than you'd think. Two people can be fans of each others work, but not work well together. The duo of Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby works, however, and works well because the country and bluegrass virtuoso (Skaggs) brings out the best in the "unclassifiable" singer and piano player (Hornsby) and vice-versa. Their pairing consistently pays off, and there really isn't a weak song on the record. That's not to say there isn't one very odd one. It's the album closer when long-time country star John Anderson joins the pair for a rather surreal version of Rick James' signature song "Super Freak."