The Stanley Brothers
Ralph Stanley's reputation has grown to near mythical levels in the past couple of years. His a capella performance of "Oh Death" in the Coen Brothers movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? marked his emergence as the new Patar Familias of traditional stringband music. Please don't refer to his music as bluegrass, since it isn't. Ralph prefers to call it "Mountain Music," which better describes his unique blend of older traditional and contemporary influences.
Before Ralph was a solo act, he performed for many years with his late brother, Carter Stanley. In those days no less than Bill Monroe called Ralph "the second best tenor singer in the world." Of course Bill considered himself the first. An Evening Long Ago: Live 1956 provides us with a glimpse of the Stanley Brothers' synergistic musical magic. Recorded late one spring evening in 1956 at the WCYB studios in Bristol Virginia, all the songs were done in one take, similar to a live set on stage. The 20 songs on An Evening Long Ago: Live 1956 include the Stanley Brother originals "East Virginia Blues," "Come All You Tenderhearted," "Shout Little Lulie," "Bound to Ride," "Meet Me Tonight," Little Bessie," "Little Birdie," and "My Long Skinny, Lanky Sarah Jane," coupled with traditional tunes like "Drifting Too Far From The Shore," "Orange Blossom Special," "Nine Pound Hammer," "Handsome Molly," and others. The twenty selections on An Evening Long Ago: Live 1956 feature Ralph on banjo and Carter on guitar joined by Curly Lambert on fiddle and Ralph Mayo on mandolin. Carter was the lead vocalist with Ralph taking all the tenor harmony parts. On "East Virginia Blues" their distinctive dual vocal lead style gives the song an especially plaintive edge.
Originally released as a "private pressing" that was sold only at live appearances, this monaural recording sounds much better than you might expect. With a single microphone, engineer Larry Ehrlich captures a wonderful balance between all the instruments and the vocals. It probably helped that the Carters' band were well experienced with using a single microphone since they performed that way all the time. Even the usual tape artifacts of flutter and wow are minimal. Sure you can hear a bit of flutter on the mandolin and fiddle, but it never seriously detracts from the overall fidelity. Given that recording sessions in the 50's were stiff formal affairs with producers calling the shots, often adding extra parts to "sweeten" the sound, this recording allows us to hear the Stanleys as they actually sounded live, but with a higher fidelity than possible in live on-stage recordings. Reissue supervisor Al Quaglieri, mastering engineer Mark Wilder, and Legacy A&R supervisor Steve Berkowitz all deserve kudos for extracting every bit of audio quality possible form the original masters.
An Evening Long Ago: Live 1956 is simply a must-have release for anyone into bluegrass or old time acoustic music.