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Ralph Stanley

Mountain Preacher's Child – 2007 (Rebel)

Reviewed by Tim FitzPatrick

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In the time between Stanley Brothers recordings and his post "Oh Brother, Where Thou?" fame, Ralph Stanley spent more than 30 years as a working musician and bandleader. This gospel collection draws from the middle of that period (1975-1985).

Here, we find Stanley's voice strong and soulful and banjo playing still driving and clear. Both are supported by a fine band. Like all of Stanley's lead singers, Charlie Sizemore works in the shadow of Carter Stanley, but does so with appeal. Guitarist Junior Blankenship executes well in a style that is predictably faithful to George Shuffler's. While the material here does not feature the fiddle, Curly Ray Cline's backup playing is a welcome addition throughout.

While much of the album evokes the past, the gospel harmonies, propelled by Stanley's unmistakable tenor, Sizemore's warmth and Jack Cooke's ability to blend on any part are timeless.

With many of the early vinyl recordings being reissued on CD, and the music's popularity in the current decade, it's easy to overlook bluegrass' cassette era of the '70s and '80s. As evidenced here, many of the music's pioneers were still in good form, making substantial, if not always seminal music during this period.