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Mosaic – the new album by Ricky Skaggs

November 27, 2010

From 1983-1985 I sold radio advertising for sister stations in Iowa City: album rock on the FM side, and country top 40 on the AM side. This was at the height of Ricky Skaggs’ popularity, and I had forgotten just how much I was into his music at the time. I have six vinyl albums, from his first solo effort (Sweet Temptation) released in 1979 while he was employed as a member of Emmy Lou Harris’s Hot Band, to Country Boy, released in 1984. Then my musical focus shifted and I kind of lost track of him, until I heard Ken Tucker’s review of his latest album, Mosaic, on the September 14 episode of NPR’s Fresh Air. What piqued my interest was that the songs are all written or co-written by Gordon Kennedy, an artist who has collaborated with Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Garth Brooks, Jewell, and Kenny Loggins. He co-wrote Clapton’s Grammy award-winning Change The World. Kennedy received a Grammy for producing and writing Peter Frampton’s album, Now.

My children gave me the CD for my birthday yesterday, and today I listened to from beginning to end on my morning walk. Not since I purchased Jars of Clay’s Redemption Songs have I felt so enamored by a total collection of songs. “The pieces don’t just fit together on Mosaic— they lock into place with a firmness, an inevitability, that sounds as though chance or faith or fate had nothing to do with it,” says Tucker. “I prefer another, even simpler term: art.”

Mosaic, the title track, puts to music the age-old struggle to make a mark, to be remembered, to “be the apple of an eye before my life is done.” The themes of temptation and weariness come through loud and clear in The Shepherd’s Voice. The mystery of a God who created the universe, yet knows the number of hairs on your head, is considered in Picture, and the end of life is addressed from the deceased’s point of view in I’m Awake Now. In My Cup Runneth Over the question, “is the glass half full or half empty?” is finally answered — none of the above and all of the above — complete with guitar solo by Peter Frampton. George Beverly Shea also makes a guest appearance at the tail end of Fire From The Sky. Shea is perhaps best known as the composer of the hymn, How Great Thou Art.

101 years old and still singing. Wow.

Maybe it’s because it was my birthday yesterday, and it’s Gordon Kennedy’s birthday tomorrow, and we’ve both made more than 50 trips around the sun so there’s more of life behind than ahead of us; whatever the reason, my favorite song on the album is Return To Sender. It speaks to my purpose, to redeeming it for that which I was created. “And I want to hear a job well done; I want to hear it from the Son; Write with chisel when I’m gone; Return to sender on my stone.”

Ricky Skaggs is best known for his bluegrass roots. In the midst of the 1980s Urban Cowboy phase, guitar-guru Chet Atkins credited Skaggs with “single-handedly” saving country music. But this album has a much different feel to it. This isn’t a country or bluegrass album, although it is kindly influenced by both genres. It’s not a gospel record, although the message of God’s love is central throughout. In the liner notes, Ricky writes:

I really thought we were going in to the studio to work on a CD, but what happened was this CD started working on us. Every day there was a visitation of God’s presence that was so obvious…. My prayer for this CD is that at the end of the day, these songs would cause people to know the love of God. That He’s not mad at us, but that He has a passionate love for us that we can’t understand. Really. I can’t cause anyone to believe, it’s not my job, but it’s a total work of The Holy Spirit….A Work Of Love!

I think this album will be working on me for years to come. Hope it works on you, too!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. christina permalink
    November 27, 2010 9:05 pm

    Happy birthday, richard! I hope it rocked ur socks off! Great review of ur bday gift. Makes me want 2 take a listen.

  2. November 29, 2010 7:44 am

    Thanks Richard…I’m going to have to get this from the library…I had seen that it was coming out and was interested. Great review…

    There are very few albums that come out that I have been totally “enamored” by that still hold an honored place in my heart. The original Jars of Clay album is number one, though it came out over 15 years ago…it is still the one album I’d take with me if I had to be stranded on a desert isle.


    • November 29, 2010 7:54 am

      Thanks Eric. I’m listening to Mosaic again this morning. I think it has become my new favorite Christmas album. Cuz it ain’t singing about any 8 lb 6 oz newborn baby Jesus… it’s singing about the Real Deal.

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