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James Alan Shelton

Half Moon Bay – 2004 (Rebel)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by James Alan Shelton

For more than a decade, James Alan Shelton has been the lead guitarist for Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys. Like many other bandleaders (and not just in bluegrass), Stanley expects his sidemen to play in a particular style that has come to be known as the "Stanley Sound." Yet through the years, Shelton has managed to play within that context, while demonstrating a very individualistic approach to melody, timing and tone that sets him apart.

As on his previous solo efforts, he uses this as an opportunity to stretch his wings a bit and bring new life to old standards ranging from Webb Pierce ("Tupelo County Jail") to the Carter Family ("Foggy Mountain Top" to an old Stanley chestnut ("Little Bennie").

Backing Shelton up on the disc, in addition to his fellow Clinch Mountain Boys (including Ralph and Ralph II), are a mix of folks from Blue Highway, Union Station and Rhonda Vincent's band. Not being a singer himself, Shelton wisely includes several vocal tracks featuring both Ralphs, Shawn Lane, John Rigsby and the unheralded Dan Moneyhun. Humble as he is, though, the centerpiece of the album remains Shelton's always tasteful picking.