LIVE: Ry Cooder, Ricky Skaggs, Sharon White & Friends @ The Egg, 11/15/15 (Take Two)
Review by Don Wilcock
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
“There goes the neighborhood,” joked mandolin master Ricky Skaggs about a half hour into his set with guitarist Ry Cooder at The Egg’s Hart Theatre. Cooder had just switched from acoustic to electric guitar. It was the first time in the show that there was any hint that something was going on here that was about anything other than a rural Tennessee back-porch gospel fest.
The super-group billed as Cooder-White-Skaggs also featured Ricky’s wife of 34 years, Sharon White, on acoustic guitar and vocals and her dad, 84-year-old Buck White of the traditional country legends the Whites, on piano. Their Albany concert came a night after they played the Carnegie Hall Perspectives concert organized by Rosanne Cash at Zankel Hall in NYC.
The 14-time Grammy winning and reigning bluegrass champion Skaggs later in the show would quip that the only thing newer than 1965 in this tour were Cooder’s 37-year-old son Joachim on drums and bass player Mark Fain, himself a 17-year veteran of Skaggs’ Kentucky Thunder touring band.
I can’t remember seeing a stellar stage band of that many musical icons so steeped in American music history since Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review in the 1970s. It was casual Tennessee twang taken to an insane degree of exquisite perfection by players buried in Grammys, each with a jaw-dropping and storied history.
The concert sold out all 1000 seats, and I saw cars from Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts just near where I was parked. While Skaggs performs in the area often, this was a rare chance to see the mercurial, eclectic and electric Ry Cooder, who rose to the occasion, sharing vocals, instrumental duets and solos with Skaggs, wife Sharon, her sister Cheryl and an impressively understated pianist in Buck White. Cooder has always been renowned for bringing authority to authentic music of many styles and color. Now, he’s added a new arrow to his quiver with his impressive melding with paragons of bluegrass and traditional country.
Standout numbers included “Raging Storm” with Ry doing a rockabilly solo, Merle Travis’
“Sweet Temptation,” “Mansion on the Hill” (with Sharon on vocals), “A Fool Such as I” by Hank Snow, “Tennessee Waltz,” “Walking to Jerusalem” (featuring an electric exchange between Skaggs and Cooder) and an encore of “You Must Unload” (with Cooder on electric bouzouki and Skaggs on mandolin).
Cooder not only added texture and variety with at least six different guitars, but he also fit in smoothly with the nasal vocals, so much a trademark of traditional country by acts like the Louvin Brother and Delmore Brothers. Cooder had said in an earlier phoned interview: “I would say that the Whites and Ricky together must be the best and finest exponent of bluegrass. These are the best, finest exponents, period. I already knew Ricky (before this tour). I knew who he was. I understood who he was. I have his records going back to the first one. So there never was any question, but the singing got me ’cause that’s what I listen for. You can play as good as you want, but the singing is the thing that’s what makes the music come alive, I think. It makes you feel it and especially the audience.”
This was one of those rare events that go into that category of lifetime memories, a team effort worth more than the sum of its parts that almost demands the release of a live recording.
Bokonon’s review and Andrzej Pilarczyk’s photographs at Nippertown
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union
“Almost”!! demands the release of a live recording”?? A live recirding is an absolute MUST DO !!!
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