Classic Album Review-Ricky Skaggs “Don’t Cheat In Our Hometown”
I can still recall the first time I heard Ricky Skaggs sing. Though I can’t give the specific date and location, I do know it was the spring of ’81, the radio station was Muncie, Indiana’s WMDH, and the song was his first major label single, “Don’t Get Above Your Raising”. What a great sound it was! Much different than most of what was filling up the country playlists of that time. I loved the bluegrass mix, the driving beat, I became a fan pretty quickly. As it turns out, so did many others, as that became his first hit single, launching one of the most successful acts of the 1980′s. That launch would reach it’s peak, in my opinion, in October, 1983, with the release of the album “Don’t Cheat In Our Hometown”, the subject of today’s Classic Album Review. Released as a joint effort by Epic Records and Sugar Hill Records, the album would spend one week atop the country bestseller lists, while spawning three number one singles.
Starting things off, “Don’t Cheat In Our Hometown”, the title track, a number one single in early 1984. It was first made popular in the bluegrass field by the legendary Stanley Brothers and had been previously recorded by Skaggs and Keith Whitley on their first album, “Second Generation Bluegrass”, way back in 1972. I’ve always rated this track highly among all of Ricky’s hits. It has that great, retro feel, while the song, itself, is an excellent combination of melody and lyrics.
Also topping the singles charts from this album was 1984′s “Honey (Open that Door)”, a song penned by Mel Tillis, early in his career. It’s another track that I would rank highly among the Skaggs hits collection. I think the melody is what makes this song. Pleasing to the ears and easy to follow.
Ricky gives a good effort on “A Wound Time Can’t Erase”. But I have to admit, even a good effort isn’t enough to even touch the original by Stonewall Jackson. I’ve always considered it to be Stonewall’s best recording, a true classic. Again, Ricky gives a good performance, but really, no one can sing this one like Stonewall.
If you hear what sounds like a familiar voice singing in the background on “A Vision Of Mother”, your ears do not deceive; it is indeed a very familiar voice, in fact a very famous voice, that of Dolly Parton. Another track to originate in the bluegrass genre, courtesy of the Stanley Brothers, it’s a formula used many times in bluegrass and early country, a song about memories of mother, who has now gone to her eternal home. Not a bad track, a bit of a beat and a good melody and not overly sappy.
Of course, you think “Uncle Pen”, you think Bill Monroe. However, for those of us listening to country music in the eighties, the Ricky Skaggs version should also be in the forefront, as well. Truly an outstanding version featuring some smoking fiddle work, I have to admit that I actually like Ricky’s version better, because I think the song works better with the driving, high energy beat that his recording has, whereas the original Bill Monroe version seems to be restrained a bit. In the fall of 1984, it became the third number one single from the album. A great track to end the first side.
Side two opens with another bluegrass standard, that was first made famous by Flatt And Scruggs in the early 1950′s (in fact, yours truly, actually has a 78 rpm of it). Interestingly enough, though, Ricky actually uses more of a rockabilly sound, instead of the bluegrass he’s known for. A great track, it’s one of the contenders for the album’s Hidden Gem. Yes, Ricky Skaggs can do more than just pure country and bluegrass.
Dolly Parton returns to provide more vocal harmonies, this time on “Don’t Step Over An Old Love”, another Hidden Gem contender. This is a track that is definitely worth hearing. In fact, good enough it could have easily been a single and have done quite well, in my opinion. A truly great piece of country music.
“She’s More To Be Pitied” is the album’s only new track (in 1983, that is), as the rest of the tracks trace their origins to the 1950′s and 1960′s, and even earlier. Though it was a new song at the time of the album’s release, it has that retro feel consistent with the other nine tracks. It is also a strong track that stands on it’s own, quite well, on an album full of strong tracks. Again, a great combo of lyrics and melody, telling of a woman who’s youth has left all too soon, thanks to the life she’s chosen to lead.
“Keep A Memory” is a great piece of bluegrass. Some stellar banjo work highlights this track that is yet another Hidden Gem contender.
The final cut is yet another track that has always ranked highly with me, Ricky’s version of the African-American spiritual, “Children Go”. Accompanied only by his guitar, and the vocals of The Whites, it’s a classic piece of American music, and a great track to throw on a Sunday morning, as I have done, during my D. J’ing days. During my research, I was amazed at the list of artists who have recorded this track, as well. The list includes Johnny Cash, Roger McGuinn, REO Speedwagon, The Kingston Trio, Hall & Oates, The Blind Boys Of Alabama, and Tennessee Ernie Ford. That’s some real heavyweights, right there. I haven’t heard all of those versions, but I would imagine that Ricky’s would rank among the best.
This album is still available on CD, in fact, you can currently purchase a copy that also includes a bonus DVD, as well. In addition, there are numerous used vinyl copies, and you might even run across an occasional cassette (does anyone still use those?)
As for the album’s Standout Track, usually given to the best single release on the album, here it is no different, as among three worthy contenders, I have to go with “Uncle Pen”. As for the Hidden Gem, which goes to the best of the non-singles, again, so many worthy contenders, but I will go with “Don’t Step Over An Old Love”. As for the Weakest Track, which goes to the cut that just doesn’t work, in this case, I can’t find one for this dubious distinction.
This is quite possibly Ricky Skagg’s best album, a great collection of music. All ten tracks are excellent performances of great compositions, mixed with some of Ricky’s best vocal work, along with simply perfect arrangements. This one is an easy 5 out of 5.
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