It Doesn't Get Any Better

Shine On (Rebel)
Ralph Stanley

By Bob Mitchell

What can I say that has not been said over the last 50 years? Nothing new. But, I can, emphatically, say Ralph Stanley is the best when it comes to presenting traditional bluegrass. No one else even comes close. His voice is filled with venerable mountain sounds that have always blown through the musical fabric of America. The difference between Stanley and so many other artists is that he is able to encapsulate the timbre of those ancient tones in his music.

Although Stanley does not play banjo on this recording, Steve Sparkman provides the closest thing to Dr. Ralph's style you will ever hear. It's uncanny and exquisite. His work is especially exhilarating on "This Little Light of Mine," "Palms of Victory," and "I'll Fly Away." As usual, the Clinch Mountain Boys provide a perfect underpinning for Stanley's vocals. His son (affectionately known as "II" or "Two") takes the lead vocal on the poignant "My Main Trial Is Yet To Come" and supports the band with his dependable rhythm guitar. Long time band member Jack Cooke contributes his indefatigable steady bass. Cooke is as solid as the proverbial rock of Gibraltar. James Alan Shelton supplies smooth flawless lead guitar work throughout. Stanley's grandson, Nathan, also becomes part of the family tradition by playing mandolin on "I'll Fly Away." The most pleasant surprise was John Rigsby, a workhorse who plays fiddle and mandolin, sings an outstanding tenor line to Stanley's leads and takes the lead vocal on "The Lowest Valley." His work is especially impressive on "The Roses Will Bloom" and "Palms of Victory."

One of the most extraordinary tracks is "Why Should We Start and Fear To Die." In this superb example of Primitive Baptist singing, Stanley "lines out" the lyrics for his minister, his minister's wife and daughter.

Gospel music has always been important to Stanley and his most recent release is another classic. The press kit proclaims this project is "a masterful addition to an already impressive recording career." I could not say it any better or agree any more. If you like bluegrass gospel, this project should be on your shelf.