Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were perfection, starting in 1948, when the pickers formed the Foggy Mountain Boys, and reaching all the way to 1969, when their differences broke the duo apart. No one that’s come since—not even the Earls of Leicester, arguably the greatest group of trad bluegrass players alive—can hope to match Flatt and Scruggs’ sense of discovery, the excitement that came from creating this new kind of music. I know it, you know it, and the Earls know it.
They’re not trying to recapture these Flatt and Scruggs songs, they’re trying to keep them alive. It’s the music they heard growing up, and no matter how far they’ve come since then, it’s the music that helps them channel those memories into the pure pleasure of playing like their boyhood heroes. Charlie Cushman (banjo, guitar) is astonishingly good, but more than that, he’s well-matched by Barry Bales (bass), Shawn Camp (lead vocals, guitar), Johnny Warren (fiddle), and Jeff White (mandolin), and surpassed only by Jerry Douglas, who remains the greatest player the Dobro has ever known.
Like the band’s Grammy Award-winning The Earls of Leicester (2014), Rattle & Roar combines standards (“Flint Hill Special” and “The Train that Carried My Girl from Town”) with rarities (“Steel Guitar Blues,” found on an old reel-to-reel recording, and “Pray for the Boys,” released as a single during the Korean War). It’s even more spirited, more exuberant than their debut—which is saying a lot—and with years of original material still to be covered, it’s not impossible to imagine the band getting better and better with time.
This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.