Earls Of Leicester channel Flatts & Scruggs in live album

Jerry Douglas and His Earls of Leicester

The Earls of Leicester celebrate Flatt & Struggs with “Live at the CMA Theater.”

At first glance, the band’s noble name perplexes, and the album title offers just a hint as to the type and levels of expertise and excitement in store. Watch the accompanying DVD. With absolute truth and a big wink, WSM’s Eddie Stubbs declares that “They play it like it’s supposed to be played, they sing it like it’s supposed to be sang, and they dress the part too.”

Leicester is “Lester,” as in Flatt, and “Earls” refers to Earl Scruggs. Bluegrass royalty, played this fine evening by bluegrass royalty, nothing over-the-pond about it. Flatt & Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys spread mountain music worldwide because they made it loads of fun, besides melodically enthralling.

Their theme song for, and cameos in the classic, campy Beverly Hillbillies TV show should never diminish their import, but rather, hail it. Veteran experts Jerry Douglas (Dobro/vocals), Shawn Camp (guitar/lead vocals), Barry Bales (bass/vocals), Charlie Cushman (banjo/guitars), Johnny Warren (fiddle/bass vocal), and Jeff White (mandolin/vocals) boast a collective resume that spans many decades and thousands of high-profile recordings and gigs.

Together, they promote Flatt & Scruggs in every best way through a gleeful recital of 23 songs recorded by the gentlemen between 1954 and ‘65. Not quite note-for-note renditions, the Earls put themselves into every thrilling second. Plus, whether in the galloping “Earl’s Breakdown,” with Cushman killing it on banjo, or the risqué—banned way back by the Grand Ole Opry—“I’m Gonna Sleep With One Eye Open,” the vintage instruments they play add a noticeable level of authenticity.

Douglas began his musical self-education at age 7 by studying Foggy Mountain Dobro player Josh Graves. He’s the engine behind every song, besides the ringleader. Of all the disparate places his career has taken him, Jerry Douglas is right at home, right here. Camp — a highly successful songwriter — sings “All I Want Is You,” reminding in his sweet tuneful twang what a real country song sounds like. White takes the reins for “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow,” celebrating life on a variety of levels.

That’s the bottom line here — celebration. Bluegrass music, and Flatt & Scruggs in particular, elicits happiness. So stomp your feet to this hillbilly band, or enjoy them as you would any classical orchestra. This is that good.

— Tom Clarke

  • Earls Of Leicester
    ‘Live At The CMA Theater in the Country Music Hall Of Fame’
    Label: Rounder
    Release: Sept. 28, 2018

About Tom Clarke

From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 23 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, and the 45-year timelines and ever-growing family trees of The Allman Brothers Band and Los Lobos.Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage.Tom and his wife Karen raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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