THE EARLS OF LEICESTER
Rounder Records 3577
Utterly natural, sparkling from beginning to end, and completely sincere might be all I should write in review of the stunning all-star release The Earls Of Leicester. The album sounds as if the bandmembers cut their teeth on this music. Oh right, the six did cut their teeth on the music of Flatt & Scruggs. Leicester Flatt is an old genre joke, but the Earls Of Leicester proves seriously great music celebrating and bringing back to life the timeless sounds of Flatt & Scruggs.
Each generation in bluegrass, at a certain point, returns to the roots established by the initial generation. During the 1980s, the equally stellar Bluegrass Album Band featuring Doyle Lawson, J.D. Crowe, and Bobby Hicks thrilled audiences by revisiting the music that drew them to bluegrass. Beginning bands necessarily feature the standards, while pop music is lousy with cover bands.
The Earls Of Leicester album, however, does not fit into any neat existing category of tribute bands. As Larry Nager explained in these pages back in October, Jerry Douglas cast this band as one would a play or movie. Flux, Tim O’Brien, Barry Bales, Charlie Cushman, Shawn Camp, and the legacy member Johnny Warren sound like they fall effortlessly into these roles. The sextet probably did just that, as the project comes across not as inspired by nor quite as slavish imitation. They sound as if they have been possessed by Lester, Earl, and the Foggy Mountain Boys.
Expressed differently, the group sounds like the originals would were they playing this classic music today with the advantages of contemporary studio equipment. That proves to be something quite glorious and far more fresh and exciting than museum music. The music of Flatt & Scruggs flows through them naturally like Plato’s great forgotten language.
The album proves so compelling that a track-by-track analysis would accomplish nothing. Each cut bears—heck, demands—repeated listening. The Earls take their material from Flatt & Scruggs powerful middle period, rather than the often played Mercury cuts or the popular and sometimes misguided songs from the 1960s. Familiar tunes such as “Shucking The Corn,” “Some Old Day,” and “I’ll Go Stepping To” mix with “I Don’t Care Anymore” and “The Wandering Boy.”
The Earls Of Leicester’s music likely will also be enjoyed sixty years from now. Son, this is what perfection sounds like. Listen closely. (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.)AM