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Ralph Stanley

A Distant Land To Roam: Songs Of The Carter Family – 2006 (DMZ)

Reviewed by Rev. Keith A. Gordon

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It's such a sound idea; it makes you wonder why nobody had thought of it before now. Ralph Stanley, bluegrass patriarch and one of the last remaining graybeards of bluegrass/country music, singing the songs of the Carter Family. Pure genius! Of course, sometimes "high concept" gets lost somewhere between the boardroom and the backroom of your local music store, but in this instance, Stanley's history with, and reverence for the material has created a milestone in a career littered with memorable moments.

This was produced by Larry Ehrlich and Bob Neuwirth and overseen by T-Bone Burnett (who, by including Stanley on the "O' Brother, Where Art Thou?" movie soundtrack, launched the singer's career into the new millennium). The trio does little more than sit back and let Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys revel in the roots of American music. Performing 13 of the finest traditional folk tunes that ever came down from the mountains, Stanley's mournful, high lonesome vocal style trembles in near ecstasy while first class instrumentalists like autoharpist Mike Seeger and guitarist James Alan Shelton recreate the earthy sound that birthed both country and bluegrass music.

A magical recording, Stanley captures the spirit of the Carter Family's legend on, building a bridge across eight decades of musical history.