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Ralph Stanley II & the Clinch Mountain Boys

Ralph Stanley II & the Clinch Mountain Boys – 2017 (Stanley Family Records)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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CDs by Ralph Stanley II & the Clinch Mountain Boys

Having served 20 years as a member of his father's band, upon Ralph Stanley' death Ralph Stanley II seems the natural choice to assume the mantle of the Clinch Mountain Boys. Maintaining the family legacy - one rooted in the earliest days of the music - is obviously important to Two, and his first album since appending "& the Clinch Mountain Boys" is a worthy testament to the Senior's bequest.

Having recorded several strong songs (among them "Bluefield," "Carter" and "Born to Be A Drifter") and albums, including "Side By Side," a recording of duets with his father, Two is well positioned toward success. Continuing his relationships with long-time CMB John Rigsby (fiddle, mandolin and harmony vocals) as well as Knoxville's Alex Leach (banjo, guitar and harmony vocals) and Noah Brown (bass), Stanley has a group versed in the Stanley sound.

Appearing to have recorded this set similarly to how his father recorded in the 1970s - relatively quickly with only the touring band, no guests - Stanley II presents his vision for the group. With the four musicians working in concert, there is nothing fancy about the album: down-the-middle bluegrass featuring Stanley's mountain-smooth voice.

Three Stanley II originals highlight this self-titled effort. "Henry Brown," co-written with David Marshall is a light-sounding number about a man on the downward spiral, while a pair co-written with Leach and Joe Rose -"Goin' Round This World" and "Raining In My Heart" - favorably resemble songs of a previous generation, with strong instrumental parts for all. Rigsby's credentials are well-established, and Leach has developed his musicianship admirably, laying out lovely rolls on songs including on a re-written version of "No More The Moon Shines on Lorena" and "Road Going Home."

One can't help but read more into "On Boot Hill," a good song about a father's grave marker, as Stanley sings words including "worked real hard, made an honest living; was so proud to be his son." Rigsby's "Fortune Fame Freedom" and the old country song "Life To Go" are additional songs providing distinction to this healthy 12-song, 38-minute recording, with "Cannonball Blues" serving as the sole instrumental.

The Ralph Stanley and Clinch Mountain traditions are in fine hands.