Ralph Stanley

A Man and His Music

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This is Ralph Stanley in the early '70s, looking back on his inspirations and creating in one album a kind of distilled essence of his music, thus the title. The resulting picking sits well, more like aged scotch than the kind of stuff these bluegrass fiends cook up out in the woods. The music here is about as far away as one can get from the reputation this music sometimes gets as a bunch of super-fast, meaningless notes . The melodies of each piece are always coming to the forefront, the players taking delight in the many tonal perplexities that can be added while still maintaining that focus on simplicity. The clawhammer banjo style that Stanley demonstrates here is a wonder, passages of notes effortlessly rolling around on top of each other or articulated cleanly as if being spoken by a long, elegant forked tongue. The recording balance is really fun, instruments jumping out to solo as if the players were hiding behind one's sofa. The fiddler Curly Ray Cline pulls off a series of sizzling improvisations on "Bound to Ride," one of the many traditional tunes in the program, most of which get credited to Stanley due to his tremendously personal arrangements. Other highlights include the stomping banjo opener "Shout Little Lulu," the locomotivated instrumental "Train 45," and one of the best versions of "Rocky Island" ever recorded, rollicking and full of powerful harmonies that will be good for the listener's ears, if not their speaker system.

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