Ry Cooder, Sharon White, and Ricky Skaggs
10 November 2015 - The Birchmere - Alexandria, VA
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Band Members: Ry Cooder - guitars, mandola, banjo, vocals; Sharon White - guitar, vocals; Ricky Skaggs - mandolin, fiddle, electric guitar, vocals; Joachim Cooder - drums; Mark Fain - bass; Buck White - piano, vocals; Cheryl White - vocals
The night was chilly and rainy but the spirits ran high amongst those gathered in line outside the historic Birchmere in Alexandria, VA. Many dedicated souls braved the weather to come and bear witness to some truly great music and musical ability. Once the appointed time arrived, we all filed inside ready to get warm and await our turns to get into the venue. In the meantime, Will and I had the honor of interviewing Mr. Skaggs himself, but that is a tale already told here: Ricky Skaggs Interview. After the interview was over and we’d waited the remaining amount of time, we walked into the space after our number was called, grabbing seats near the aisle for good coverage purposes. Our table mates were all very agreeable and supportive of our cause, which is always nice. The food was tasty and the libations proved just the right thing to set us up for an evening of supremely fine music, care of Mr. Skaggs and company. Might as well get right to it, right my friends?
They kicked things off with the stunning vocal harmonies of “The Family Who Prays Shall Never Part” immediately showcasing so much of what makes this tour, this ensemble, so special. Very, very fine instrumental work, adept-level musicianship, and incredible vocals. Add that all up and you get a huge smile on your face, not to mention a whopping and lovely level of satisfaction. Nothing gets to my heart faster than strong, sweet, and sonorous vocals. And, luckily for me, this is just the kind of show that has those very things in spades. Next up was Flatt and Scruggs’ “Take Me in Your Lifeboat” which featured some exquisite piano playing from the White family patriarch, Buck White. My goodness can that gentleman tickle the ivories! I’ll gladly listen to him break it down any day of the week. And twice on Tuesdays! Some really great guitar from Mr. Cooder in this one — I really see his playing in this group so much as the perfect accent line and texture to push these old favorites up to a new and different level. It is a very interesting and rewarding process to watch, to be sure. And just how tempting can one thing be? This music sure was tempting in so many ways but none more so than with “Sweet Temptation” — can we tempt you with a little video?
Pretty sweet, no? They followed “Sweet Temptation” with a soulful and powerful version of Hank Williams’ “Mansion on a Hill”. Sharon White took lead vocals for this one, obviously pouring her professed love of this song directly into her performance. The effect was palpable. Later on down the set the ensemble launched into “Soul of a Man” filled with heartfelt banjo care of Mr. Ry Cooder. Not to mention the clarion clear vocals of Mr. Skaggs throughout the serenity of this piece. It all made for a gorgeous whole. They contrasted the “diaphanous and corpuscular” (Ry’s words) nature of “Soul of a Man” with the well-known and well-loved Jimmy Martin song, “Hold Whatcha Got”. An obvious crowd pleaser, this rendition was filled with the perfect balance of all musicians present with some nice stand-out moments from a few, such as Buck on the keys. Ry’s first favorite song he’s loved since the third grade, “Now and Then, There’s a Fool Such As I”, was next in line with Ricky up on fiddle to help round out the wonderful Western sound of this one. A lovely number from Ry and the gang, nice and sweet and filled with some particularly fine harmonies. Not a big surprise from this ensemble, but always a blessed treat all the same. A bit of some good ol’ Flatt and Scruggs came after in the form of one delightful “Goin’ Home” followed by “The Old Home Place” featuring some straight pickin’ from Ricky on mandolin and Ry on banjo. And that voice…that classic, Ricky Skaggs voice singing in such pure tones and perfect timbre for this musical style — magnificent. They took this directly into a rousing “Hallelujah I’m Ready” which was big on sound and harmonic precision. A really fun little ride! The Delmore Brothers’ “Pan-American Boogie” sauntered out later down the set, bursting with an agreeable musical attitude and even more amazing vocals and harmonies from the exquisite collection of singers present. Sensing a trend yet? Sincerely, if you love good music, good music played well, sung well, then you should check this act out if you can before their tour ends. The harmonies alone should be enough to get you there, never minding the world-class instrumental abilities throughout the group. Absolutely marvelous. “Wait a Little Longer, Please, Jesus” was next with Sharon on lead vocals for a little Gospel and then we got a wonderfully nice duet from Sharon and Ricky called “No Doubt About It” with Ricky on electric guitar for a song. What blend these two have! Thirty-four years of marriage must have an effect like that on musicians such as these…and thank goodness for it! Then they gave us some Bill Monroe next with Ricky remaining on electric guitar and Ry on his admittedly really cool-looking mandola for a super energetic “Walking in Jerusalem”. The group kept the Gospel vibe going with “Over in the Gloryland” to end the set on a high, high note for everyone there present. What a show!! So many wonderful parts and moments and there was still the encore to look forward to!
Ricky spoke a few words of thanks before announcing that they would give us two more songs in encore to that stellar show. The first was a Ry Cooder lead called “You Must Unload”, a sort of cautionary song and available for a listen here:
Finally, picking another powerful Flatt and Scruggs catalogue favorite, they closed things down for the night with a moving and supremely gorgeous “Reunion in Heaven”. Wow. And I do mean, wow. What a show! I mean, I knew to expect wonderful things from this Bluegrass supergroup, however…wow. Some of the finest musicianship I have seen on a stage in a long time. Bravi to one and all for such a fun and important evening of musical adeptness. Looking so forward to the next time I can see any or all of these fine artists again. And so many thanks to one and all for such marvelous musical memories!