Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys (1959)

The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys is the first of many albums the Stanley Brothers recorded for the King Record Company based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Of course by this time the Stanleys were already popular recording artists, having recorded for Rich-R-Tone, Columbia, Mercury, and Starday prior to their tenure with King. While this material is available on numerous compilations of the Stanleys’ King and Starday years, I think it warrants a discussion on its own terms.

This self-titled King LP was the first classic bluegrass album I ever owned, and I remember being immediately floored by the opening track “How Mountain Girls Can Love.” I had never heard a banjo played with that kind of speed and intensity before and I was equally taken by the “lonesome” harmonies of Carter and Ralph Stanley. To this day, I don’t think anybody in bluegrass can top the Stanley Brothers in their prime and I think their early King material, such as the honkytonk numbers (“She’s More to Be Pitied”) the straight-up bluegrass (“Love Me, Darling, Just Tonight”) and the blistering instrumentals (“Train 45,” “Clinch Mountain Backstep”) found on this album, are some of the finest recordings in bluegrass history. The fact that almost every song on this record became a bluegrass standard makes it a worthy successor to the Stanleys’ seminal Columbia and Mercury recordings of the late 1940s and early 1950s. I wish the Stanley Brothers’ later King releases such as the disappointing Remarkable Stanley Brothers from 1964 were this consistent.

AMG Rating: ***
My Rating: *****

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