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Ralph Stanley

A Mother's Prayer – 2011 (Rebel)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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On encountering a new album from an artist whose catalog already runs into triple digits over a career now in its seventh decade, it's easy to wonder how much more he's really got to say. But for Ralph Stanley, now 84 and more than 10 years removed from the renown he gained in the course of the O Brother phenomenon, there's still a deep well of music to be drawn from the lives and faith of his Appalachian forebears. "A Mother's Prayer" is far from his first gospel-themed release, but characteristic of its predecessors, it's less fire-and-brimstone than it is simple statements of the bedrock faith that enabled mountaineers to survive a forbidding environment and human tragedy - such as that related here in Come All Ye Tenderhearted, originally recorded with Ralph's late brother Carter. Done nearly unaccompanied (and there are three others that a cappella), this track will resonate strongly with those whose introduction to Ralph came by way of Oh Death.

There's also plenty of the classic Stanley bluegrass sound, the arrangements are nicely varied, and the material is drawn from a surprising variety of sources ranging from grandson Nathan Stanley to black street preacher Washington Phillips.

The album is nicely produced as well by son Ralph II, who demonstrates convincingly here that he understands what the "Stanley Sound" is all about, and after more than a hundred albums, there's still plenty of it to go around.