The Stanley Brothers

Old Country Church

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Old Country Church Review

by Stewart Mason

A 1961 release of traditional gospel songs, this is among the Stanley Brothers' finest albums. The brothers were born and raised in the Clinch Mountain area of Virginia (also home to the similarly pioneering Carter Family), one of the most fiercely traditional areas of the Bible Belt, and the pair performed gospel music throughout their career. However, this album just has something special about it. Recorded in one brief session with Carter Stanley on guitar and lead vocals, Ralph Stanley on banjo and tenor harmonies, Curley Lambert on mandolin, Vernon Derrick on fiddle, and Chuck Stripling on bass, these ten simple, powerful songs are delivered with the righteous passion and enthusiastic sense of community of a real church service, where joy and devotion are inextricably intertwined. Even the most mawkish songs, like the ultra-maudlin "Mother's Only Sleeping," are delivered with sincerity and grace. The best tracks, like the title song, "My Sinful Past" and the closing "Kneel at the Cross," are as good as traditional gospel gets. Unusually for the Stanley Brothers, about half of the songs are sung in four-square harmony in the traditional gospel quartet style, with Lambert and Derrick filling in the vocal sound.

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