Ralph Stanley is the elder statesman of bluegrass, both a link to the past and a living reminder of the music's relevance. Echoes of the Stanley Brothers is comprised of two albums, Michigan Bluegrass from 1971 and Gospel Echoes of the Stanley Brothers from 1973. The first album covers faithless women and murder, the second, faith and redemption. The bluesy "Another Song, Another Drink" will probably inspire anyone who's ever lost their love due to a bottle problem to hit the bars once again. Like some of Stanley's best music, there's a sense of fatalism that saturates lyrics like, "I realize how much I loved you/but it's too late for you to care." The end, it seems, is near. The plot-heavy "River Underground" carries the same determinism. The narrator marries a woman, she runs around with other men, he murders her and leaves no evidence, and, because he misses her, decides to commit suicide. (One wonders what might have happened had the song been extended another minute.) The best thing about both songs is the deep feeling that accompanies the vocals; the haunting harmonies hark back to the old-time music of the Appalachians and the lyrics seem to have been carved in stone. The jingoistic "Are You Proud of America" and "Let's Keep Old Glory Waving" remind one of the type of the flag-waving anthems that occasionally turn up during times of crisis (perhaps Vietnam here). These songs also don't age well -- unless they are reissued during another crisis. The second album begins with the lovely "Let Me Walk Lord By Your Side," offers a heartfelt "The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn," and presents a bluesy version of "White Dove." Echoes of the Stanley Brothers captures Stanley's new band, featuring Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs, respectfully paying tribute to their roots. Fans of the Stanley Brothers and of Ralph Stanley should enjoy this one.
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.