("Exploring the Classics" (ETC) is an ongoing series in which I highlight and discuss an album from country music's past that is of particular noteworthiness due to general acclaim, influence, historical import, commercial success, or some combination thereof. While in many instances I'll be revisiting albums with which I've long been familiar, in others I'll be experiencing these works for the first time. What albums count as "noteworthy" is obviously highly subjective and determined at my discretion, but I'm not too strict about it. I do, however, feel that these are the works that tell the story of country music and all of its many roots and branches.)
Collaborative and duet albums have a long and storied history in country music, but in truth they rarely live up to their billing. There have been many good ones, but few I would classify as genuinely great. I don't know if the problem is the difficulty of two artists working together on a unified vision ("too many chefs spoil the soup") or what, but such albums are seldom as interesting as the individual artists' best solo material. However, this general observation in no way applies to Ricky Skaggs and Tony Rice's self-titled album from 1980, which is a thoroughly excellent bluegrass album from start to finish.
By the time this album came out, Tony Rice was already a big name in bluegrass with a handful of acclaimed albums to his name and a reputation as a virtuoso of the acoustic guitar. Ricky Skaggs was only in his mid-twenties and had just released his first solo album, but already had a considerable amount of musical experience under his belt as a member of various bluegrass bands since the time he was a teenager. The two men knew each other from their time in J.D. Crowe's The New South and set out to create an album together that paid tribute to the music they loved and grew up on.