from their "Rattle & Roar" 2016. Rounder Records
The notion of a handful of the best pickers in bluegrass paying homage to one of the music's most innovative and influential acts is inarguably appealing. And with their first album, the Earls of Leicester, the all-star Flatt & Scruggs tribute act assembled by Dobro master Jerry Douglas, demonstrated the great possibilities of such a concept. But they also revealed its Achilles' heel: their loving re-creation of Flatt & Scruggs' classic sides served as a powerful reminder of the strength of the originals without adding anything that couldn't be found in the old 78s, besides improved fidelity. Douglas and his bandmates haven't solved this dilemma on their second album, 2016's Rattle & Roar, but they have managed to use some subtle studio technique to give this session a more distinct personality than was displayed on the debut. As anyone would expect, the performances on Rattle & Roar are splendid, and the musicians -- Douglas, Johnny Warren on fiddle, Charlie Cushman on banjo, Shawn Camp on guitar and lead vocals, Jeff White on mandolin (replacing Tim O'Brien from the first album), and Barry Bales on upright bass -- sound even tighter and more joyously emphatic than they did before. (The harmonies are every bit as good, too.) While the production is unobtrusive, the audio is crisp, and the natural-sounding stereo makes the most of the group's dynamics. And bits like the radio-sweep introduction to "Steel Guitar Blues" brings a modern aspect to the project that doesn't interfere with the authenticity of the musical approach. Rattle & Roar isn't especially different from The Earls of Leicester, but two years of playing together and a bit more care in the studio have made a difference. This is a stronger set than their debut, and will appeal to anyone who loves classic bluegrass.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming
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