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Poor Rambler

Ralph Stanley

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Album Review

Any three-disc set of previously hard-to-find recordings by Ralph Stanley would be a release worth noting. But this one is especially exciting because it brings together the entirety of Stanley's work for the King and Gusto labels, much of it from the late '60s when Stanley was arguably at the peak of his considerable powers. Much of this material features lead singer Larry Sparks, the man generally considered Ralph Stanley's most effective duet partner since the death of his brother Carter. Indeed, the 36 King sides were recorded shortly after Carter's untimely death and a brief but intense period of personal grief and professional uncertainty on Ralph's part. When he returned to recording and playing it was with an impressive level of energy and commitment, as these recordings make plain — just listen to the gritty incisiveness of his renditions of "Poor Rambler," "I'm Better Off Now That You're Gone," and the Bill Monroe classic "In the Pines." But as fine as these songs are, the real fun comes on the 12 songs that Stanley recorded for the Gusto label with Jimmy Martin handling lead vocals and rhythm guitar chores. Martin's patented buzzsaw whine and powerful guitar attack push Stanley in a way that his late brother never had, and the results are thrilling. The occasional harmonica and drums (!) are an annoyance, but not more than an annoyance. Very highly recommended.

Biography

Born: 25 February 1927 in Stratton, VA

Genre: Country

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Born in Stratton, Virginia in 1927, Ralph Stanley and his older brother Carter formed the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys. In 1946 Ralph and Carter were being broadcast from radio station WCYB in Bristol, Virginia. The music, which was inspired by their Virginia mountain home, was encouraged by their mother, who taught Ralph the clawhammer style of banjo picking. They recorded for such companies as the small Rich-R-Tone label and later Columbia, a relationship that lasted from 1949...
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