Ralph Stanley is one of very few bluegrass banjo players who still take off the steel fingerpicks occasionally and play in the older, more traditional clawhammer (or "frailing") style. It's a more percussive, less intricate approach, one that carries with it the rough-hewn charm of old-time string band music rather than the flashier, more commercial appeal of bluegrass. This disc collects 18 live and studio recordings in that mode by Stanley, some made just a few years prior to this album's 1997 release and others dating as far back as the early '70s. Many of the tunes will be familiar to Stanley fans -- he's recorded "Shout Little Lulie" and "Little Birdie" many times -- but others are more obscure. While all of these performances are a delight, it's the live ones that work the best, partly because he sings more on those; the live performance of "Little Birdie" may be definitive. And the disc ends with an on-stage interview in which an unidentified MC gets Stanley to explain his technique in detail. Musician credits would have been helpful to those interested in this recording as a historical document, but the music couldn't be better.
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AllMusic Review by Rick Anderson
feat: David Marshall