Ralph Stanley

Clinch Mountain Gospel

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Originally recorded in a single all-day session in the spring of 1977 and released later that year, this remains the best of the three albums made by Ralph Stanley's band during the brief period between the untimely demise of singer Roy Lee Centers and the beginning of Charlie Sizemore's nine-year tenure with the band. During those few months, Stanley's former singer Keith Whitley returned to take the lead vocal slot, and this stunningly beautiful set of old-time and bluegrass-gospel songs was one of the results. The program is predictable: Chestnuts like "Over in the Gloryland," "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem," "Amazing Grace," and "Mother's Not Dead" are all here, as are a couple of favorite hymn arrangements ("Amazing Grace," "Jesus Savior Pilot Me"). And for fans of the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, there's an absolutely hair-raising rendition of "Oh, Death"; unlike the a cappella version that Stanley sings in the movie, this one features both Stanley and Whitley with a full-band accompaniment, but it's no less stark and powerful. This is one of the most powerful bluegrass-gospel albums ever made -- never syrupy, never cheaply emotional, it grabs you by the scruff of the neck and fairly dares you not to get right with God.

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