Stanley Generation Records
Many bluegrass fans undoubtedly recall Ralph Stanley II as a young child, joining his legendary father and the Clinch Mountain Boys on stage, and later from his tenure in the band as the lead singer and guitar player. Given that background, one might reasonably expect his music to have been strongly influenced by the music he has had around him literally all of his life. And so it has. But, as his newest recording Born To Be A Drifter makes abundantly clear, “Two” has succeeded admirably in making his own sound.
From the driving opening of “I Think I Hear A Train” to the lonesome ballads “Bluefield” and “Wilder Than Her” and the wry “Lovin’ Ain’t Been Easy On My Mind,” Stanley II provides a refreshing sound—his smooth baritone is country-influenced, but overall this is indisputably bluegrass. While this is nothing like the hard-edged mountain sound of the Stanley Brothers, it reflects his influences from some of his father’s greatest, post-Carter lead singers—Keith Whitley, Larry Sparks, and Charlie Sizemore among them. The sole contribution from the Stanley Brothers catalog is a fine version of the classic “Mother’s Not Dead, She’s Only A-Sleepin’” which closes out the recording as a direct nod to his heritage. Nothing here sounds derivative. As the son of a true legend and hugely influential musician, Stanley II has managed a singularly difficult task: to successfully assimilate the sounds around him and make his own way.
Along with outstanding sidemen John Rigsby on fiddle, mandolin, and harmony vocals, Duane Bowling on banjo, and Curt Chapman on bass, this is a classy, mature recording featuring strong instrumental performances and topnotch material from songwriters including Tom T. and Dixie Hall, Pete Goble, and Chris and Peter Rowan. Thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended, Born To Be A Drifter deserves a place in almost any bluegrass fan’s collection. (Stanley Generation Records, 9 Music Square S., Ste. 351, Nashville, TN 37203, www.ralph2.com.)AWIII