Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys - the Complete Mercury Recordings

The Stanley Brothers - Carter on guitar and lead vocals and Ralph on clawhammer-style banjo and tenor vocals - started their bluegrass career in 1946, highly influenced by Bill Monroe. In fact, the story is that Monroe left the Columbia label after the Stanley Brothers were signed because he felt they were imitators of his. He later forgave them and even worked together on several occasions.

After a brief breakup, the Brothers reunited and signed with Mercury for these recordings, which took place between 1953 and 1958. They are joined by other musicians, including mandolin, fiddle, guitar, steel guitar, bass and more, but the brothers are always the stars. Monroe described Carter as "the finest natural lead singer there ever was" and, combined with Ralph's terrific tenor and extraordinary banjo stylings, they were a potent duo. Of course, the backing musicians add quite a bit, as well, and these tunes are superior selections of the bluegrass style.

There are gospel tunes mixed in with the secular, instrumentals (such as the fiery banjo workout "Dickson County Breakdown") and even the classic "Angel Band", which appeared on the O Brother How Art Thou soundtrack. Everything here is strong - all 48 numbers - and this is another excellent example of the best of classic bluegrass.