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Ralph Stanley II

Listen to My Hammer Ring – 1999 (Rebel)

Reviewed by Larry Stephens

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CDs by Ralph Stanley II

Bluegrass musicians rarely stray far from their roots, and Ralph Stanley II is no exception. His first CD is traditional bluegrass: no drums or amplification, tight harmony, and melodic support for his singing.

Father Dr. Ralph sings harmony on most songs with the Clinch Mountain Boys providing instrumental backing. Ralph II's voice and styling bring memories of Keith Whitley, a one-time band member. Their offering is an eclectic mix, including gospel, traditional, country and Stanley-penned songs. "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain" seems out of place here, but the title cut and Carter Stanley's "Mary, Merry Christmas" are gems.

If this album has any faults, it's the lack of new material and failure to push any limits. You can stay true to your roots without following the same formula (same instruments, same breaks) on every song. If Stanley had taken a few risks the album would be more interesting. Still, it's great bluegrass.