Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder

Live at the Charleston Music Hall

Bluegrass music is built for live performance. Capturing Skaggs and his band of virtuosos on stage, interacting with and spurred on by an audience, not only shows what these players can do (as opposed to what a studio can make them sound like they can do), but captures the heart and soul of their music. From the blistering traditional opener, “Black-Eyed Suzie,” to the extended closing jam on Bill Monroe’s “Get Up John,” the band shows off an astounding precision that amplifies the music’s joy without ever becoming a labored technical exercise.

Skaggs’ nimble fingers can fly at a blinding speed, as can his bandmates’ flat-picked guitar, finger-picked banjo, and bowed fiddle. If the hot picking were merely a flashy stunt, it would be impressive, but their fluidity — their jazz-like interplay — is an essential element of the music. This intensity shines just as brightly when they slow down for tunes like Carter Stanley’s “On a Lonesome Night” and Red Smiley’s gospel country “I Heard My Mother Call My Name in Prayer.”

Skaggs’ tenor is as smooth as ever, whether blending with the band’s close harmony singing or providing the show’s continuity with between-song patter. This disc is a superb introduction for the bluegrass neophyte, and will please fans with many tunes never before recorded by the artist, including a pair of new instrumentals. A concert disc can’t replace attending a live show, but this one communicates the exhilaration of the experience with exceptional eloquence.

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