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Ralph Stanley

Shine On – 2005 (Rebel)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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It is now nearly 60 years since Carter and Ralph Stanley returned from military service in Europe, hardly more than teenagers, and embarked on a music career lasting 20 years until Carter's death, with Ralph continuing on solo to his present-day iconic status. A healthy percentage of the nearly 200 albums he has issued under the Stanley name have been gospel releases, and if you think he's run out of ways to present songs of faith, "Shine On" will come as an intriguing surprise.

Many, including Ralph, have commented over the years that bluegrass is only part of what he does, and the 14 tracks here are a textbook example of how deeply traditional his roots run (even though the title track is a Dolly Parton tune). In fact, though he's backed by his current Clinch Mountain Boys, most of the songs are not, strictly speaking, bluegrass. For example, there are two a cappella numbers: a trio (the aforementioned title track) and a quartet ("Sing Songs About Jesus"); "On A High, High Mountain" is a recitation; and "Why Should We Start And Fear To Die" is a hymn, "lined out" in the Primitive Baptist style that Ralph grew up singing. Also worth noting is James Alan Shelton's sterling guitar work.

Even more so than his "O Brother" work, "Shine On" is vintage, dyed-in-the-wool Stanley.