Album Review: Ricky Skaggs – Mosaic
Many artists thank God in their liner notes, but how many credit Him as a guest artist? Ricky Skaggs does on Mosaic. One flip through the liner notes, and there’s God, responsible for the thunder heard on “Fire from the Sky.”
The past few years have seen Skaggs collaborating with the likes of Bruce Hornsby and The Raconteurs. Here Skaggs enlists Peter Frampton; however, he only appears on one song–laying down a guitar solo on “My Cup Runneth Over”–which is a little disappointing. Other guests include daughter Molly, sounding similar to Sara Watkins or Sierra Hull, on gentle pop tune “I’m Awake Now” and 101-year old George Beverly Shea, a gospel singer who’s probably best known for his work on the Billy Graham Crusades.
Though all of those guests are wonderful, Skaggs’ main man on Mosaic is co-producer Gordon Kennedy. Kennedy, formerly of Christian rock group White Heart, won a Grammy for his work on Frampton’s Now and co-wrote Eric Clapton’s “Change the World.” He wrote or co-wrote all of the songs found on Mosaic, and also contributes guitar and background vocals. The pair makes a good team, and the result is an album that’s musically and lyrically interesting as well as deeply reverent.
The highlight of Mosaic is “Fire from the Sky,” a nearly seven-minute song that tells the Old Testament tale of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Singing as Elijah, Skaggs is almost cocky in his delivery, taunting “Shout louder to your Baal/He won’t hear a peep.” After Skaggs recites the Bible verses which reveal the outcome of the tale, the song builds to an electric guitar and thunder crescendo before closing with an unaccompanied Shea singing “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” a song whose melody he composed in 1932.
Equally captivating, though for different reasons, is the contemplative “Return to Sender.” No, it’s not the Elvis hit, but rather one of the year’s best gospel songs. The quiet and Celtic-tinged (thanks to Irish flute and uilleann pipes from Skip Cleavinger) has Skaggs cleverly appropriating the term as an expression of his faith: “In time the body will succumb/And go the faithful servant home/Write with chisel when I’m gone/’Return to Sender’ on my stone.”
This isn’t an album for anyone who’s wanting to hear some of Skaggs’ breakneck bluegrass, but those who enjoy pop-influenced country or Contemporary Christian music will find a keeper in Mosaic.
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