When Carter Stanley died suddenly in 1966 at the age of 41, his brother Ralph Stanley was left at an unenviable crossroads. Given that the Stanley Brothers were such a top-draw mountain bluegrass outfit, it almost seemed unimaginable that Ralph could continue performing at that prior level without his brother, who was the songwriter part of the duo. But continue he did, opting to stay close to the traditional Appalachian folk material he had grown up with, choosing songs that were often bone-chillingly dark and thus emotionally fitted to his ragged, weary-sounding tenor voice. That voice lost none of its poignant, weary grace as it aged, even though it had grown ragged, shaky, and worn by the time this set was tracked, the first of two albums issued from the sessions. Backed by a stellar band (Stanley's bands, the various Clinch Mountain Boys over the years, have always been excellent ensembles), Stanley runs through several traditional Appalachian songs, many of which, like "Little Maggie" here, have become signature tunes for him. His voice may be worn to the bone at this point, but he stills works these old gems with his usual mountain gospel grace, creating music that is part string band and part modern bluegrass, as haunting as ever as he continues searching for meaning and redemption in the old songs. ~ Steve Leggett
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