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The Stanley Brothers

Earliest Recordings: The Complete Rich-R-Tone 78s – 2005 (Rounder)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

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CDs by The Stanley Brothers

Whether it's the Allman Brothers, Jimi Hendrix or the Hank Williams, early recordings are usually unimpressive affairs better left for musicologists or hardcore fans.

Such is the case with this 14-song collection of early Stanley Brothers 78s. There are gems, like "The Little Glass of Wine" (a great murder song by the way), and "Molly and Tenbrooks" is a real romp. It's also apparent Ralph and Carter Stanley's harmonies were melting together in these late'40s-early '50s sessions before they joined Mercury Records. There's also the occasional jolt of Ralph's great banjo picking.

Audiophiles, take note: The sound quality is all over the map, from occasionally fair to often scratchy and tinny. There's a certain charm to old Stanley Brothers 78s, but quality studio work isn't one of them. Give credit to Gary Reid's well-researched liner notes, which encompass 22 pages. He also provided many of the old Stanley Brothers and band photos.

If you're really into old-timey music or can't get enough of the Stanley Brothers, then enjoy. Otherwise, this is one tough listen.