Ralph Stanley and Ralph Stanley II - Side By Side
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Side By Side (Rebel, 2014)

Ralph Stanley and Ralph Stanley II

Reviewed by John Lupton

It's hard enough to contemplate the fact that it's been nearly 70 years since teenaged Ralph Stanley returned from military service in Europe to embark on a legendary career for two decades with brother Carter (who passed in 1966) and now for almost a half-century on his own. On top of that, it's similarly mind-bending to realize that it's some 25 years since his then pre-teen son Ralph II (known familiarly as "Two" for most of his life) has been a regular part of his dad's Clinch Mountain Boys, eventually filling the lead singer role handed down through his Uncle Carter as well as through standout vocalists like Larry Sparks, Roy Lee Centers, Keith Whitley and Charlie Sizemore.

Two has taken his share of shots over the years and heard the mutters of "you'll never be as good as your uncle." Yet, he's persevered on his own path and now, in his mid-30s, has matured into a reliable singer who stands well on his own while at the same time serving as a dynamic partner for his 87-year old father. The "Stanley Brothers" sound died with Carter, but this new father-son collaboration resonates nicely with that history.

Ralph Sr. is said, depending on who's reporting, to be retiring from performing after this year, but he's still at the top of his "high lonesome" game here, especially on tracks like the solo, a cappella "Don't Weep For Me" and the opener "Wild Bill Jones."

Two's best lead vocal efforts come on "White And Pink Flowers" and "Don't Step Over An Old Love," but longtime Stanley aficionados can't help but be reminded by "Nobody Answered Me" of Carter and Ralph's recording some 60 years back of "Rank Stranger" - and, in fact, Google and the liner notes credit both to renowned gospel writer Albert Brumley. Backed by longtime Clinch Mountain Boy alums Steve Sparkman and John Rigsby, "Side By Side" is "Stanley music" throughout. Seven decades later, that's still a pretty good thing.

CDs by Ralph Stanley and Ralph Stanley II

Side By Side, 2014

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