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Anyone who attended either of Ricky's two-plus hour long show at the legendary Birchmere in Alexandria, Va., can tell you that despite the popular and critical acclaim he's won through the decades -- including 14 Grammys, which number 17 after next month, thanks to his latest albums 'Mosaic' and 'Solo: Songs My Dad Loved' -- he still embraces the music with the enthusiasm of an eager prodigy.
"What I really loved is that the lyrics are alive," Ricky tells The Boot before taking the stage January 7. The songs, which were written for the 'Mosaic' album by Gordon Kennedy, who co-produced the project with Ricky. "It was one of the best meeting of musical minds that's [occurred] in a long time. I love working with him. He has been a fan of mine for a long time and he knows my singing and abilities and encourages me to go beyond what I've done before."
That's clear on the title track of the album, which includes a falsetto that Ricky acknowledges was "a real stretch."
Ricky and his band took the stage, launching into a string of beloved bluegrass songs including Stanley Brothers' classics 'How Mountain Girls Can Love,' and 'On a Lonesome Night,' Bill Monroe's 'I'm On My Way Back to the Old Home,' and 'Blue Grass Breakdown' and two songs from Ricky's recently released album 'Mosaic.'
Although he always wows with his passionate playing, his vocals - specifically on 'A Work of Love' and even on the classic 'Kentucky Waltz' - were hauntingly rich and textured.
Yet it was the vintage mandolin Ricky played -- a favorite of Darrell "Pee Wee" Lambert, one of Ricky's earliest idols -- that seemed to bring him the most joy. Although Ricky's mother had tried to buy it for him early in his career, a series of circumstances prevented him from obtaining it until recently. "The mandolin he played 47, 48 years ago, is hanging around my neck right now," Ricky told the crowd just prior to launching into his mother's favorite song, the Stanley Brothers' 'Mother's Only Sleeping.'
While Ricky's heart has belonged to bluegrass since 1997, he knows his fans want to hear the more standard country music he made popular. That's one reason he will soon be launching the Treasure Chest Tour, which will include his early country hits, bluegrass and songs from 'Mosaic.'
He points out that without the lyrics to the songs on his latest album, most people would not know they were based in Christianity. The challenge of creating such music is what drives him, too. After all, he says, it's important to remember that although he's an artist that is Christian, he is not a Christian artist.
"I have a totally different purpose and focus," Ricky explains. "It's not that I don't want to go to churches and play this music but my heart really beats for the street, the marketplace. I really want to go to people that are not necessarily religious people. I really want to take this music out to them. I think there is something there for everyone."
Dates for Ricky's Treasure Chest Tour will be announced soon here.