Anyone who has seen Ralph Stanley's fine touring band will be familiar with guitarist James Alan Shelton. Shelton's innovative method of cross-picking allows him to play lead while simultaneously never losing the rhythm. These picking skills are in abundant display on his 2004 Rebel release, Half Moon Bay, and he's joined by a number of other crack musicians, including banjoist Steve Sparkman, guitarist Tim Stafford, and fiddler Todd Meade. That means a listener can select a track like the traditional "Goodbye Liza Jane" or Bill Monroe's "Road to Columbus" and hear great instrumental work. The arrangements are pretty straightforward, usually made up of some combination of guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and bass, meaning Half Moon Bay qualifies as bluegrass or old-time. All of these qualities would be enough to make Shelton's album a winner, but he sweetens the package with the addition of several guest vocals by John Rigsby ("Handsome Molly"), Ralph Stanley II ("Little Bennie"), Shawn Lane ("Dark As a Dungeon"), and Dan Moneyhun ("Foggy Mountain Top," "Tupelo County Jail"). Ralph Stanley himself even adds a bit of baritone to "Little Bennie." Half Moon Bay is a fine album that will meet the approval of both Shelton and Ralph Stanley fans.
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AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.