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Ralph Stanley

Clinch Mountain Country – 1998 (Rebel)

Reviewed by Jon Weisberger

Ralph Stanley's already passed his 50th anniversary in the music business, but Virginia's bluegrass legend sounds as lively as he ever has on this all-star collection. Teamed up with a variety of guests from across the country spectrum - from Bob Dylan to Diamond Rio - the old master delivers three dozen great songs from throughout his successive careers as part of the profoundly influential Stanley Brothers and then as a solo act.

This album - a guaranteed nominee for a wealth of awards over the next year - works on a variety of levels, as a tribute to Ralph and his late brother Carter, as a showcase for his guests (many of whom show a convincing familiarity with the material), and most importantly as a powerful set of enduring songs. This isn't one of those tributes where a gaggle of stars "reinterpret" someone else's work by molding it to their own styles; Stanley's regular band, the Clinch Mountain Boys, provides virtually all of the backing, and the guests, with one or two exceptions, follow country tradition by fitting themselves into the Stanley sound.

With the extraordinarily broad range of friends presented here, just about every fan of one or more kinds of country music - mainstream, alternative, bluegrass, gospel and more - has a reason to buy this and enjoy the wealth of great music that's on it.