by: Alan Morgan
It was a sad day when the music world heard about the passing of banjo master Earl Scruggs on March 28th, 2012. Musicians and fans from all different musical backgrounds were saddened by the loss of one of the most innovative instrumentalists this world has ever seen. Now, in the weeks following Scruggs’ death, Rounder Records is set to release, “Foggy Mountain Special: A Tribute to Earl Scruggs,” tributing three-finger style banjo master on June 5th.
The album will feature acclaimed banjo players who have all taken pieces of Scruggs’ banjo style to develop their own sound, as well as 11 of acoustic music’s finest instrumentalists. The 12 track album will take listeners through a variety of tunes that were popular throughout Scruggs’ pivotal recording career from 1949 to 1969. Perhaps the most welcoming part about this tribute album is that there are no real surprises; each track represents the playing style and syncopation of Scruggs’ three-finger technique just as it should. Listeners should expect to hear a variety of Scruggs-style banjo tunes, and instrumental arrangements done much in the way that Earl did them in his original recordings.
The opening track on the album, “Flint Hill Special”, is played by seasoned banjoist, David Talbot and features one of Scruggs’ most recognizable tricks, the, “D-Tuning”, a technique that involves de-tuning and re-tuning one of the peghead tuners while encompassing it into the song’s melody. Other tracks on the album include Bob Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline Rag” which was recorded by Flatt & Scruggs and “Steel Guitar Rag” which was never commercially recorded by Scruggs but featured on the Flatt & Scruggs show in the 1950’s. The album leaves listeners’ ears with perhaps Scruggs’ most recognized songs: “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and is executed on this compilation by Craig Smith.
Although a lot of people revered Earl Scruggs as a, “living legend” prior to his death this past spring, perhaps it is most appropriate that “Foggy Mountain Special: A Tribute to Earl Scruggs” be released now that he is gone. After years in the making, producer Tim Austin’s vision of this tribute is finally coming to fruition, and he couldn’t have done a more tasteful job. From the recording to the mixing to the musicians that he selected, this tribute album is one that is sure to make Scruggs fans listen intently to the intricacy in the musicianship, but the simplicity of the whole package.