Hills of Home

Ralph Stanley

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Hills of Home Review

by Karen E. Graves

Originally issued in 1969, Hills of Home is a tribute to Carter Stanley. "Let me rest on a peaceful mountain," sing the Clinch Mountain Boys as Carter's more well-known brother Ralph Stanley delivers a eulogy to his late brother and bandmate. Through a spoken passage, Stanley speaks directly to his brother, explaining that the band is carrying on his memory and his wishes by continuing to play his music around the country. By directing his speech to his brother rather than the audience, the sentiment is made even more striking. Although the title song is a somber affair, it is hardly indicative of the rest of the album's largely upbeat tone. Well, as upbeat a bluegrass can be -- there's always a certain lovely sadness somewhere in the mix. Elsewhere the band gives "My Long Skinny Lanky Sarah Jane" and "Let's Go to the Fair" lighthearted workouts, while "Dark Hollow" offers stark and beautiful images of leaving trains and broken hearts. The lonesome harmonies of "Dug-Gunn Shame" and "The Kitten and the Cat" are well executed, but the band performs with such ease that it's easy to underestimate the skill and complexity of the performances being given, both musically and vocally. While not all of the numbers here are as widely known as Stanley's later hits, there's still plenty of material for bluegrass enthusiasts and novices to sink their teeth into. Everything Stanley records is top-notch, and while he fares well on the up-tempo numbers collected on this album, it's no surprise that this "Man of Constant Sorrow" truly shines when lending his quaking voice to the most forlorn numbers, such as "I Only Exist," with it's weighty refrain, "I'm not living/I only exist/How much longer can I go on like this?"

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