Classic Album Review-Ricky Skaggs “Highways And Heartaches”
I can’t imagine anyone not liking this album. It’s that good, even twenty-eight years after it’s release.
This was Ricky Skaggs’ second Epic Records release, following 1981’s “Waiting For The Sun To Shine”, and in the opinion of many, myself included, “Highways And Heartaches” is the album that really made his career in mainstream country music.
The first of the number one hits, opens the album, “Heartbroke”, of which I still have an almost worn out 45rpm copy in my collection. Because of the high turnover of the charts of that era, which resulted in very few multi-week number one hits, it’s hard to say what Skaggs’ biggest hit actually was, but it may well have been this track. All over the radio, it certainly ranks as one of his best. Still a great song, twenty-eight years later.
Of the four singles on the album, the only one that did not reach number one, was “You’ve Got A Lover”, which stopped at number two. Ricky moves into ballad mode, here, and does it quite well. The term “high, lonesome sound” has often been aptly used to describe bluegrass-styled singers, and Skaggs is no exception. That “sound” is perfect for this recording of a man lamenting his loss of his lady to someone else.
“Don’t Think I’ll Cry” is a swinging country-bluegrass cut that is not quite a standout track, but good enough to hold one’s attention, and I’d say it’s highly unlikely you’ll skip past this cut.
I love the mandolin intro on the 1950’s-era “Don’t Let Your Sweet Love Die”. It’s a great song that has been a part of many a bluegrass act, over the past fifty years, and I think this is the best version I’ve heard.
One of the best cuts on the album, may well be “Nothing Can Hurt You”. What a way to end the first side (if it’s a vinyl copy)! If “You’ve Got A Lover” isn’t enough to convince you of Skaggs’ abilities on ballads, then this cut will do the job. The recording has a feeling of forlorn, a sound of loneliness, one can almost feel the hurt; a testament to Ricky Skaggs’ vocal abilities.
Side 2 opens with another of the number one singles, “I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could”. Skaggs swats another home run with this cut. A radio staple during the first few months of 1983, this was a refreshing break from the steady diet of pop-influenced sounds that were dominating country airwaves of that time.
Ricky covers one of his heroes, next, as he tackles Bill Monroe’s “Can’t You Hear Me Callin’”. It’s a good effort on one of the master’s classics and likely introduced the music of Mr. Monroe to many who had been previously uninitiated to his music.
This album contains my two favorite cuts of Ricky Skaggs, “Heartbroke” and “Highway 40 Blues”. As for my favorite between the two, I think “Highway 40 Blues” edges out. The song, itself, is outstanding, but then, add the arrangement that is bluegrass heavy, with a touch of country and rock, and you have easily the best single of 1983. It was a perfect summertime hit.
Even on an album this good, there’s usually one track that isn’t quite as good as the rest. Here, it’s “Let’s Love The Bad Times Away”. A ballad, it’s not terrible, but a bit on the bland side.
While he didn’t always get the notoriety of some songwriters, Rodney Crowell may have been the best songwriter of the 1980’s. For the finale, Ricky tackles one of Crowell’s compositions, “One Way Rider”. A perfect song for anyone who infuses bluegrass, or rock, into their country. This is great cut to end the album with. Good enough to leave the listener wanting more, when it ends.
The good news, is that “Highways and Heartaches” is available on CD, plus for those “old schoolers”, there seems to be several used vinyl copies on the market, as well.
Overall, one of the best issues of the first half of the 1980’s. An easy 5 out of 5 in my book. What do you think? Comments are always welcome.
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