A Fly On the Wall

An Evening Long Ago: Live 1956 (Columbia/Legacy)
Stanley Brothers

By Bob Mitchell

On March 24, 1956, The Stanley Brothers had a busy day filled with Bluegrass music: a radio show, a barn dance and a hog auction. At midnight, Larry Ehrlich escorted the Stanleys and their two sidemen (Curly Lambert and Ralph Mayo) to the studios of WCYB in Bristol, Va. Ehrlich asked the men to play some more music and turned on a recorder with one mike. There was no rehearsal and no planning. What resulted was a private pressing, "a personal thank you from Ralph for friends only."

Now, thanks to modern technology, the entire world can enjoy 20 amazing tracks recorded that day. By today's technical standards, the quality of sound is lacking, but that fact is overshadowed by the sheer power of uncluttered arrangements, sparse instrumentation and the bone-chilling harmony of authentic bluegrass.

Carter takes most of the lead vocals, but Ralph assumes lead on "Little Birdie," and provides two outstanding banjo solos on "Shout Little Lulie" and "John Henry." Nothing new can be said about the impeccable phrasing and closeness of their harmonies. But I can say it is a thrill to hear these rare recordings. Chills went up and down my spine as they sang "East Virginia Blues," "Darling Do You Know Who loves You," "Meet Me Tonight," "Drifting Too Far from The Shore," and "Feast Here Tonight." As I listened I had the sensation of being a fly on the studio wall, soaking up a special and private session. When these tracks were laid down, Bluegrass was only ten years old. It is exhilarating to hear a young Carter and his unique voice as well as the remarkable sound that only Ralph can get from a banjo. If for no reason other than historical significance, this CD belongs in your collection.