If you are a fan of rock music, or pop, or jazz, or rhythm & blues, then read no further because this is a blue grass review, pure and simple.
Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys may have created the blue grass music form, but Ralph and Carter Stanley were close behind. The Stanley Brothers performed together from 1946 until Carter’s death in 1966 at the age of 41. Ralph and his Clinch Mountain Boys have continued on to the present day. Now 88 years old, Ralph Stanley is one of the very last of the original blue grass musicians.
During his 70 year career, Ralph Stanley has produced an estimated 1200 recordings and recorded for many different labels. During 1971 he was part of three albums recorded for the Jessup label. Those three albums form the basis for his latest release The Complete Jessup Recordings Plus.
One evening when Stanley was late for a concert, he found high school seniors Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley performing his songs until he arrived. Taking them under his wing, they recorded together for Jessup. Skaggs and Whitley released Tribute To The Stanley Brothers, which was later retitled Ralph Stanley And The Clinch Mountain Boys Featuring Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley. The other tracks are culled from the albums Sing Michigan Blue Grass and Gospel Blue Grass, which also included Skaggs and Whitley.
The music is traditional and very raw by today’s standards. Its roots are in the hills of the south where it was played on wash boards, boxes, and spoons. Stanley is one of America’s legendary banjo players and his voice is pure old-style country. In addition to guitarist/vocalist Whitley and mandolin player/vocalist Skaggs, he is joined by guitarist Roy Lee Centers, fiddle player Curly Ray Cline, and bassist Jack Cooke. Cline and Cooke continue to record and tour with Stanley.
Musically and lyrically, blue grass music chronicles a way of life. “Are You Proud Of America” and “Let’s Keep Old Glory Waving” were released in August, 1971, while the Vietnam War was raging and the student protest movement was in full flower. The gospel music is straight forward and out of the Christian tradition. It formed an important part of both the Stanley Brothers and Ralph Stanley’s solo catalogue with Roy Lee Centers providing the harmonies in place of the deceased Carter. “In Heaven We’ll Never Grow Old,” “Wings Of Angels,” “Masters Bouquet,” and “White Dove” are all out of a southern prayer meeting.
Ralph Stanley is a legend within his musical niche. He recently received the National Medal Of Arts and a Doctorate of Music from Yale. He is a rare artist who never tried to fit in with the musical trends of the day. Through the British Invasion, disco era, grunge, and modern country; he has continued to produce his brand of mountain blue grass. If you are a fan of the blue grass style, then this glimpse into the mind and style of Ralph Stanley is a must.