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Old-Time Pickin' - A Clawhammer Banjo Collection

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Album Review

Ralph Stanley is one of very few bluegrass banjo players who still occasionally takes off the steel fingerpicks and plays in the older, more traditional clawhammer (or "frailing") style. It's a more modal and percussive approach, one that carries with it the rough-hewn charm of old-time string band music rather than the flashier, more commercial appeal of bluegrass. This 18-track set (half the tracks are new to CD) is drawn from Stanley's long run with Rebel Records and includes him playing the banjo in the clawhamer style he learned from his mother when he was 11 years old. The virtuoso speed and considered slickness of contemporary bluegrass are nowhere to be found here, but that doesn't mean this is a radically different Ralph Stanley, it's just Stanley working closer to his string band roots. The approach is still the same, and his singing is still full of mountain gospel as he searches for meaning and redemption in the old songs.


Born: 25 February 1927 in Stratton, VA

Genre: Country

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

While he preferred the term "mountain music" to "bluegrass," Ralph Stanley ranked second only to Bill Monroe in his importance to the genre. A pioneering clawhammer banjoist and riveting singer, Stanley shot to prominence with his brother Carter and the Clinch Mountain Boys in the '40s and '50s. After Carter's death in 1966, Ralph soldiered on, riding waves of popularity in the '60s folk revival and the '70s bluegrass festival scene. In 2000, his a cappella rendering of "O Death" became the musical...
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