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Ralph Stanley II carries on

By Dan Armonaitis, July 2004

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Stanley took the sentiment to heart and decided to record his father's patriotic anthem "Are You Proud of America" as a tribute to the sacrifice being made by American servicemen overseas. His father's version was originally featured on the Clinch Mountain Boys' 1971 album, "Michigan Bluegrass."

"I got to thinking about that and all the stuff that's been happening and remembered that song," Stanley says. "That's one reason I wanted to (record) that. And I believe in support your country songs."

Although his music is bluegrass at the core and the new album utilizes the all-acoustic Clinch Mountain Boys, Stanley also believes in the power of a straight-up hard country song and says that he wouldn't rule out someday recording an album's worth of material featuring a pedal steel-driven sound.

"I've had a lot of people try to talk me into it," says Stanley, who cites George Jones as his biggest country influence. "And I cut one song just to experiment a little bit, and everybody said, 'Ralph, your voice is just meant for these instruments.'"

If he does ever make such a transition, it wouldn't be without precedent for a Clinch Mountain Boy. More than two decades ago, the late Keith Whitley went from being a member of the elder Stanley's band to becoming one of the '80s leading neo-traditionalist country singers.

Right now, however, Stanley is content to continue recording with the Clinch Mountain Boys.

"There ain't no better band for what I want to do than them boys," he says. "And besides, I like to have the same band on my CD that's going to be featured on stage."

Taken as a whole, his new album's rich blend of country and bluegrass is arguably even better than his 2002 effort, "Stanley Blues," an impressive feat considering that album earned him a Grammy nomination. Stanley won a Grammy the same year for being a part of the Clinch Mountain Boys' collaboration with Jim Lauderdale.

Among the other highlights of "Carrying On" are a guest vocal appearance by his father on "Mountain Dew" and "Devil's Little Angel," and the presence of two spiritual tracks, the Stanley Brothers' classic "Map of God's Highway" and the Tom T. Hall-penned "Welcoming Tomb."

"I've always said any record that I do is going to have a gospel song on it because I believe in the good Lord above, and I think everything you get is received through Him," Stanley says.

As for his dad's guest appearance, Stanley simply states, "He's my hero. It's unreal the way he went in there and sung. He's still got it. He ain't lost a step. I think he just keeps getting better and better."

Stanley may indeed have some "mighty big shoes" to fill because of his family name, but whether his influence on the music world is anywhere near that of the Stanley Brothers isn't really important. The fact that he's level headed enough to find a healthy balance between choosing his own path and paying homage to his heritage is evidence that he's poised to enjoy a long career in music.

"I think this record has showed the true me," Stanley says. "I think the last one showed glimpses of it, but I think this one really, really showed it because this is the one I've wrote the most songs for. I've got respect for my heritage, but I also think there are plenty of more great songs to come from my own pen if I can stay in the right frame of mind."

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