Known primarily for its now classic title track, Ricky Skaggs’ Country Boy has held up beautifully since its release in 1984. A number one gold selling album, it wasn’t as prolific as the string of releases that preceded it, but it stands as a strong collection in Skaggs’ catalog.
The #2 peaking “Something In My Heart” was the first of two singles. A fine slice of neo-traditional country, the track is pleasant on the ears but not memorable enough to stand out among Skaggs’ iconic hits. The brilliant title track was the second single, a one-week chart topper in 1984. It’s possibly my all time favorite Skaggs recording, the song both infectious and effortlessly cool but more importantly, it stands the test of time sounding fresher today than back then.
The rest of the project matches the exuberance of the singles. Never one to shy away from covers, Skaggs peppers a few smart selections among Country Boy’s ten tracks. My favorite is Bill Monroe’s instrumental hoedown “Wheel Hoss,” a fiery fiddle and steel number that also makes ample use of a mandolin’s charms. Skaggs also does a great job covering “Window Up Above,” a 1960 hit for George Jones. While its hard to compare, Jones does have the slight edge with his near flawless ability at capturing heartache with his voice. In comparison, Skaggs sounds a bit too clean.
“I’m Ready to Go” is a cover of an old Carter Stanley co-write and a magnificent banjo centric bluegrass thumper. Like the title track that opens the record, “I’m Ready To Go” closes out the proceedings with a similar jaunty texture but instead of incorporating modern country elements, it sticks straight up bluegrass, a wonderful choice for a wonderful song.
Larry Cordle wrote “Two Highways” which would become the title track for Alison Krauss’ 1989 album. Surprisingly it’s Krauss’ version that’s more upbeat but Skaggs’ rendition is far superior thanks to a slower neo-traditional arrangement that appropriately lets the ache of the lyric shine through.
“Baby I’m In Love With You” is another steel accented uptempo number, and a rare love song on the album. The fluffy lyric, written by Alex Gibson, Andy Gibson, and Joe Weaver, brings the song down considerably, and coupled with the production, make the song a miss. I don’t have a problem with the drunk on love scenario but the execution is too sappy for my tastes.
“Brand New Me,” the other love song, works much better because Skaggs’ character comes from a place of healing. The overall track has a bit of a Dan Seals’ vibe down to the ribbons of steel guitar woven throughout and Skaggs’ straightforward approach to the vocal. Overall it’s a good song, but there’s nothing terribly special or unique to help it stand out amongst the strongest tracks on the project.
The fiddle ballad “Patiently Waiting” is one of those standout tracks. The neo-traditional arrangement is perfect and acts as an inviting gateway into the song. Another highlight is “Rendezvous,” a slightly theatrical love song about getting back to the stage when the couple first met.
As a whole Country Boy is a very solid above average album with some brilliant moments sprinkled throughout. His material was stronger on his previous two releases, which is reflected in the notion that Country Boy isn’t one of Skaggs’ best-remembered projects for much beyond the title track. But its definitely still worth listening to even though its just below essential.