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Ralph Stanley II
This One Is II
Review By Steven Stone
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  The expression "born into the business" certainly applies to Ralph Stanley II. The son of Ralph Stanley and a nephew of Carter Stanley, "Two" as he's often called when in his father's presence, is the direct inheritor of a monumental body of American musical tradition. Having spent nearly 15 years as the lead singer in his father's band, Stanley has had ample opportunity to soak up all the subtleties of his father's unique and pioneering form of mountain music.

Although its title, This One is II, would lead you to believe that it is Stanley's second solo outing, it's actually his fifth. His last, Carrying On, was released in 2004. Originally scheduled to be released well over a year ago, This One is II was held up by Stanley's need to create an album that accurately represented his current musical identity. He said, "I've always wanted to do something more traditionally country, because this was the music I really admired growing up." But instead of remaking country standards Stanley applied his traditional approach to more contemporary tunes. Songs by Lyle Lovett, Elton John, Fred Eaglesmith, J.P. Pennington, and Townes Van Zandt join other modern songwriters' material on This One is II.

At first it doesn't sound like Stanley is making radical changes from the original versions. Lyle Lovett's "LA County" retains the same tempo as the original, but a fiddle and banjo vamp replace the synthesizer bed in Lovett's version and the song is instantly sent back fifty years.

Stanley's voice is not what anyone would refer to as beautiful, but without seeming to do much he can deliver a song with an emotional impact that eludes many euphonic and more radio-friendly vocalists. Like Willie Nelson, Stanley doesn't seem to be doing very much when he sings, but just like Nelson his direct delivery connects with the song's meanings in ways that fancier and more acrobatic voices don't or can't. The accompanying musicians take their musical cues from Stanley's simple vocals. Hot pickers including Cody Kilby on guitar, Randy Kohrs on dobro, and Adam Steffey on mandolin all play with noticeable restraint. Every solo emphasizes the tune's basic melody and rhythmic skeleton rather than going "off" into uncharted waters.

Some solo albums showcase how far away from their usual material an artist can get. This One is II takes a very different path. Here you will discover Ralph Stanley II interpreting modern material in an uber-traditional manner. The results are timeless.

 

 

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