On the outside we have the year's most disgusting album cover (see for yourselves), and a star who'd look perfectly at home playing for Arsenal/working at Vidal Sassoon. But bypass the superficial stylepiggery and you'll find some of the finest country music being recorded by a major label today. As the man says: "I may look like a city slicker, but..."
Picky Ricky's modernised bluegrass may sound as spotless as a baby's bum, but the playing — sadly swinging ballads and cajun-tinged hillbilly picking — is more fervently earthy than most of the neuterised C&W megamarket put together. Anyone who thrilled to the frantic guitar/banjo duel in Deliverance will rave over the live, hell-for-leather purging of "County Boy" (and Costello completists can savour the historical Ricky And Elvis duet on "Don't Get Above Your Raising").
The crystalline sound and playing on Live In London is a bit too perfect. If I hadn't actually been at the shows in question, the smatterings of applause would never convince me that this is really live. But however annoyingly professional the feeling, the frantic ingenious picking of Skaggs (acoustic guitar, mandolin, telecaster and fiddle), Bruce Bouton on pedal steel, and various banjo players, is a godsend. And the sense of cultural unease in some of Skaggs' patter combines with a comic tail-off howl that sounds like a yodelling racoon in a meat mincer to undermine the manicured presentation.
The laudable exclusion of any songs from last year's Favourite Songs compilation, means missing the cocky bounce of "See Me Walking" or the desolate harmonies of "A Wound Time Can't Erase" and, although the harmonising here is mighty fine, there are no songs with the raw gospel/blues feel of "Children Go." I guess Live In London is as good an introduction as any to the wonderful world of Ricky Skaggs, but when that proverbial desert island beckons, I'll still be packing 83's Don't Cheat in Our Hometown.