My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Ralph Stanley II

Album Review: Various Artists – ‘Constant Sorrow: Tribute To Ralph Stanley’

constant sorrowAn interesting selection of mainly country artists pay tribute to the legendary Ralph Stanley, in a project helmed by his grandson Nathan.

Stanley’s son Ralph II opens with the Celtic-sounding ‘Katy Daly’, II’s naturally melancholy tones counterpointing the upbeat tune about a 19th century moonshiner to enjoyable effect. Nathan takes on ‘A Robin Built A Nest On Daddy’s Garden’, which is also very good. Stanley’s old bandmate Ricky Skaggs sings the traditional ‘Gathering Flowers For The Master’s Bouquet’.

Jeff Bates sounds like a real bluegrass singer on ‘I Think I’ll Just Go Away’, a lovely old Stanley Brothers lost love tune. Lovely – I’d like to hear a full bluegrass album from Jeff. Rhonda Vincent is beautiful on ‘The Darkest Hour’, another highlight. My favourite track, though, is Vince Gill and Rebecca Lynn Howard duetting on an authentic and compelling murder ballad, ‘Pretty Polly’.

Insofar as Ralph Stanley has a signature song, I’d say it would be ‘O Death’, which he sang on the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou. The great Gene Watson offers a powerfully intense reading here. Marty Raybon gets the now-iconic ‘I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow’, and does a nice job, partnered by Sonya Isaacs.

Southern gospel duo (and real life husband and wife) Jeff & Sheri Easter perform ‘Going Up Home To Live In Green Pastures’, and The Lewis Tradition (a spinoff from/second generation successor to Sheri’s mother’s family band the Lewis Family) offer a pleasant traditional four part harmony on ‘Dad’s Ole Rocky Field’.

Harmonica whiz Charlie McCoy gives a70s outlaw country-meets-bluegrass twist to ‘Little Maggie’, which works surprisingly well.

‘Room At The Top Of The Stairs’ is a haunting Randall Hylton song about a lonely woman who refuses to believe the protagonist can offer the love she longs for. I remember it fondly from Kieran Kane’s 1993 solo album Find My Way Home. I hadn’t been aware of Ralph Stanley’s version, and Jimmy Fortune’s take made a nice surprise.

This is a lovely tribute album: some great singers on excellent songs, with a tasteful bluegrass production backing them. I warmly recommend it.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Nathan Stanley – ‘Every Mile’

every mileRalph Stanley’s 21 year old grandson is the third generation of his family to have a music career. His grandfather is of course a legend, while father Ralph II is affine singer in his own right. Nathan has an attractive although not very distinctive voice, and his song choices and arrangements here are very tasteful, mostly in the hinterland of country and bluegrass. This album is a religious one, so it is appropriate that it comes to our attention in Easter week. the general mood is a warm, positive one well suited to Stanley’s vocal style.

Nathan Stanley’s voice is smoother sounding than his father or grandfather, and it works particularly well on ballads. He also has a great ear for a melody, as evidenced by the songs chosen here. There are a number of beautiful ballads included. The metaphorical ‘Piece Of Clay’ about the way God remakes people is perhaps my favourite. Almost as lovely are ‘Where No One Stands Alone’ and ‘Where Will You Go’. ‘I Know Jesus Will See Me Through’ features pretty harmonies from Sonya and Becky Isaacs. The title track is a gently melodic expression of gratitude to God with lovely harmonies from Southern Gospel singer Wes Hampton, who makes another appearance on ‘Lord You’re The Best Thing’, another pretty tune.

‘Let Me In Your Heart’ picks up the pace. The harmonica led ‘Would You Be Ready’ (a duet with gospel singer Adam Crabb) is quite cheerful sounding despite its pointed lyrical criticism of those who do not live what they preach. The pensive ‘Heart That Will Never Break Again’ remembers a dying father with faith he is going to “a better place”.

There are a number of special guests familiar to country fans. 80s star T Graham Brown joins Nathan for an unexpectedly bluesy and very enjoyable version of the Tanya Tucker hit ‘Baptism Of Jesse Taylor’. Jeff Bates adds a gritty harmony/duet to the traditional ‘Green Pastures’, which is one of my favourite tracks. Vince Gill provides a sweet counterpoint on ‘Hand In Hand With Jesus’ backed by a string arrangement. Grandpa Ralph shows up on ‘You Can’t Make Old Friends’; Ralph is sounding very old, but there is a palpable warmth and familial affection in their duet which really works. I might even prefer it to the recent cut by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers just for that eomotional connection.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this album, but have been impressed by Nathan Stanley. I look forward to hearing more from him.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Ralph Stanley & Ralph Stanley II – ‘Side By Side’

side by sideIt’s hard to know how much longer the legendary Ralph Stanley can keep on making music.  He is supported here by son Ralph II on a project intended to recall the best of the music Ralph made with late brother Carter as the Stanley Brothers.  Father and son take turns singing lead and harmony. Ralph’s ageing voice still has great presence and character, while his son’s has its own arresting quality.

A solo accappella performance by Ralph senior on ‘Don’t Weep For Me’ makes a virtue of his ageing voice and shows his sense of phrasing is unaffected.  He sounds good on the traditional ‘I’ve Still Got 99’, and is effective on the intensely lonesome wail of ‘Carolina Mountain Home’, in which the protagonist longs for his sweetheart.  Another traditional tune, ‘Wild Bill Jones’ represents the timeless sound of the music of the Appalachians.

The prettily melodic ‘Walking With You In My Dreams’ was written by Bill Monroe’s brother Charlie.  Ralph sings this one simply, with no harmonies behind him.

Ralph II delivers a measured lead on the pensive ‘Dirty Black Coal’, a song written by his father about miners’ mixed emotions about the dangerous and unpleasant work which nonetheless provides a living for their families.  John Rigsby’s fiddle underlines the mood set by II’s mournful vocal.  A version of  his father’s ‘A Little At A Time’ is good but less memorable than other tracks.

He is ideally suited to the plaintive ‘Don’t Step Over An Old Love’, familiar to country fans from Ricky Skaggs’ version.  This is perhaps my favourite track, followed by the melancholy gospel ‘Nobody Answered Me’.

Ralph II sings solo on the rapid paced banjo-driven Carter Family classic ‘Darling Little Joe’, and is supported by his father’s high harmony on the traditional ‘Six Months Ain’t Long’ and the newly written but very traditional sounding ‘White And Pink Flowers’.  II also takes the lead on a solid bluegrass version of Ernest Tubb’s ‘Are You Waiting Just for Me’.

One instrumental, ‘battle Ax’, is thrown in.

This is a rare link to the deep past of country and bluegrass, beautifully performed with the benefits of modern recording technology to keep the sound clear and pure.

Grade: A