The Clinch Mountain Boys & The Stanley Brothers: The Complete Mercury Recordings (Box Set)
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Major label Universal, which controls the catalog of Mercury Records, has taken a welcome, if belated, interest in the recordings made for Mercury by the Stanley Brothers during their tenure there from 1953 to 1958, issuing a full-priced compilation, Angel Band: The Classic Mercury Recordings in 1995, and an entry in the midline-priced 20th Century Masters/The Millennium Collection series of artist best-ofs in 2002. Annotator Mary Katherine Aldin makes no bones about the reason for Universal's decision to plump for this two-disc set of the Stanley Brothers' complete Mercury recordings, mentioning the appearance of the track "Angel Band" on the multi-million-selling O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack in the opening paragraph of her liner notes. The success of that 2000 album has opened the reissue floodgates for more than one bluegrass act, and this is one of the happier results. The Stanley Brothers (with the varying personnel of their three-or four-piece backing group, the Clinch Mountain Boys), were still-young bluegrass veterans when they arrived at Mercury in 1953, guitarist Carter about to turn 28, and banjoist Ralph 26. Recording was not the primary element in their career; they managed only 46 tracks in 12 sessions in four-and-a-half years (the last two selections come from an undated session for Smash, a label acquired by Mercury). But that gave them time to come up with excellent original material; 37 of the songs here were written by one or both of the brothers. The cover songs include standards like "Orange Blossom Special" and "Blue Moon of Kentucky." The subject matter consisted mostly of songs of love gone wrong, with religious statements providing some relief from the romantic grief. The playing, fast or slow, is consistently impressive bluegrass picking on guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and bass, and Carter's lead vocals, with Ralph chiming in on high tenor, are the epitome of bluegrass singing. This is classic work of its type. (The collection includes four tracks previously unreleased in the U.S.)