Stanley Brothers: & Clinch Mountain Boys, 1953-58 & 1959 (2-CD)
2-CD with 32-page booklet, 49 tracks. Playing time approx. 120 mns.
Carter and Ralph Stanley were Bill Monroe's first rivals in the 1940s. By the 1950s, their version of bluegrass was honed to razor-sharp perfection, and their 46 recordings for the Mercury label are among the high watermarks of classic bluegrass (even Ralph Stanley considers them their best work). Working with a variety of fine supporting players, among them fiddler Art Stamper and mandolinist Bill Napier, the Stanley Brothers vocal artistry (as well as Ralph's hard-hitting banjo picking) never sounded better. This collection of the complete Stanley Mercury recordings offers a previously unissued gem, A Lonesome Night, as well as others (among them Close By) previously available only on Japanese reissues of the 1970s. Gary Reid's authoritative notes frame the picture painted by the music, and two 1959 recordings for the Blue Ridge label round off a remarkable set.
The Stanley Brothers are among the least likely candidates to try to rock. If Carter and Ralph Stanley appear here, can Pavarotti be far behind? The back story to this track is not clear. It's likely the recording took place sometime between the spring and summer of 1960, when this song by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters began a run on the 'Billboard Best Seller'list that lasted for half a year. The song was hugely popular. It likely would have been known to the Stanley Brothers without any help from King label boss Syd Nathan.
Nathan might have helped since he was fond of sharing copyrights between his artists, moving hits across genre lines. Hank Ballard and the Midnighters were King artists as were the Stanley Brothers and so it could have come to pass that the Stanleys took a shot at this, perhaps as a joke at the tail end of their session. It's hard to rule it out. We do know that the undubbed master of this song features Carter and Ralph Stanley singing with banjo, bass and acoustic guitar. The timing is ragged and it sounds quite demo-ish. The released version, which we have chosen here, features the addition of echoey finger snaps that provide a more commercial product and nudge the performance more decidedly in the direction of rock 'n' roll.
We don't know whose fingers were doing the snapping (one story on the web has James Brown doing it. It might just as easily have been Carter or Ralph, themselves). In any case, this track goes to show that even a 'pure' bluegrass act can be edged in the direction of rock 'n' roll. The distance is often shorter than you think.