And Looking Forward With the Deuce

Carrying On (Rebel)

Ralph Stanley II

By Bob Mitchell

As you probably noticed in the previous review, the Stanley name is synonymous with one thing: pure Bluegrass. However, the title "Carrying On" has a double meaning, i.e., outlandish behavior or preserving something special. This project is an endeavor of the second kind. Ralph Stanley II, or "Two," co-wrote the powerful title cut which speaks to the enormous responsibility of filling the musical shoes of his legendary Uncle Carter Stanley and father Ralph Stanley.

Be assured: Two's latest project means hardcore Bluegrass fans have nothing to worry about. Although his voice has developed into a husky baritone, the sound and soul of his approach are guaranteed to fill his famous uncle and father with pride. Two's smooth approach is further enhanced by outstanding musical support from father Ralph's band (The Clinch Mountain Boys) and renowned guests such as Josh Williams, Don Rigsby and Kenny Smith.

Carrying On is a follow-up to his Grammy nominated release, Stanley Blues. This current recording clearly demonstrates Two's knowledge of and respect for his family's legacy and increasing musical maturity. He wrote or co-wrote four of the 12 tracks: "You Will Never Be Mine" is heartfelt with excellent harmony vocals; "I Am The Way I Am" is about the life of a musician who misses home when on the road and "Arizona Line" is a first-rate instrumental written with guitar wizard James Alan Shelton. (Shelton's cross picking is particularly noteworthy on "Single Girl.")

Another Clinch Mountain Boy, Steve Sparkman provides dazzling banjo on every track. I especially enjoyed his work on "I Am The Way I Am" and "Pretty Woman." One of my favorite tracks is a lively cover of his father's song, "Ain't It Hard."

Other outstanding tracks: a cover of the Stanley Brothers' moving gospel number, "Map Of God's Highway;" the affecting "Welcoming Tomb" by the prolific team of Tom T. and Dixie Hall (the fiddle and vocal harmony are especially noteworthy); and "Mountain Dew" with a tenor vocal from his legendary father, Dr. Ralph Stanley.

(One continuing concern I have is that this one of many projects I've seen lately with very, very serious photographs. What's going on? Doesn't anyone smile anymore? Come on Two, smile. Your music makes a lot of people happy.)

Like his dad's new disc, on a five-point scale of excellence, this release is a five. For more information, check out www.rebelrecords.com