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The Stanley Brothers

The Definitive Collection (1947-1956) – 2007 (Time Life)

Reviewed by Tim FitzPatrick

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With close and cutting harmonies, Carter and Ralph Stanley are among the elite performers in the history of bluegrass. The first 2 discs of this 60-song collection focus on the Stanley's studio recordings, and most are gems. Classics such as "The Lonesome River," "Rank Stranger" and "The White Dove" continue to hold their own despite having spawned droves of covers. Backing band The Clinch Mountain Boys provide solid support with standout contributions including Curly Lambert's high baritone singing and George Shuffler's cross-picked guitar.

The third disc is a collection of rarities and live performances. "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms" and "Black Mountain Blues" are good examples of the latter. There are also a few songs released here for the first time. Some, such as the Carter Stanley and Bill Monroe live rendition of "Sugar Coated Love," seem to have been chosen primarily for their historical interest.

As with any collection, long time fans may already own much of the material offered. However, anyone with a developing interest in bluegrass would do well to become familiar with the Stanley Brothers, and this compilation is an excellent introduction.