September 10, 2001 12:00 PM

Earl Scruggs and Various Artists (MCA)

How’s this for a crew: The world’s preeminent banjoist has rounded up Melissa Etheridge, Elton John, Vince Gill and even actors Steve Martin and Billy Bob Thornton. But the big surprise on this tribute album is how well Scruggs plays at 77; his picking is still more nimble than that of musicians 50 years his junior.

Scruggs, who with his late partner Lester Flatt is best known for “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” on the Bonnie and Clyde soundtrack, rips through it here with an assist from Martin, himself an accomplished banjo player. Other memorable tracks include Sting’s “Fill Her Up” and John’s “Country Comfort.” But Etheridge provides the standout track, belting her emotional tune “The Angels” while Scruggs noodles thoughtfully in the background.

Bottom Line: This Earl is a king

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