Ralph Stanley: A Mother’s Prayer

Ralph Stanley’s voice may show the effects of his 84 years, but what it may have lost in technical quality it has more than made up in, for want of a better word, gravitas. In this collection, he focuses on gospel songs, ranging from the 1870’s to the present day, drawing upon both black American and white American traditions. These days, Stanley leaves the banjo playing to Steve Sparkman, but it is his voice that gives this CD its power, whether he is singing alone or backed by Sparkman and the rest of the Clinch Mountain Boys. He performs a number of songs a cappella, including Blind Willie Johnson’s “John The Revelator” and the 1870’s hymn, “Prince Of Peace.” In two of the most moving selections, he blends solo voice with minimal accompaniment. “Come All Ye Tenderhearted,” also from the 1870’s, he half-sings, half-speaks the sorrowful tale of a woman whose infant daughters are consumed in a fire when she runs an errand; the only instrument is a barely-heard bowed bass, giving the tune a haunting Celtic sound. In his version of “Lift Him Up, That’s All,” by an African-American farmer and storefront preacher, Washington Phillips, he blends singing and speaking in the manner of a country preacher, accompanied only on the choruses by the gently melodic guitar of James Alan Shelton.

“A Mother’s Prayer”

This is an especially balanced recording, especially given that it stays within one genre; each selection stands out brilliantly on its own. When Ralph Stanley sings, we know we are in the presence of the real thing. The liner notes for this CD won the IBMA’s Liner Notes of the Year award.

Rebel Records, 2011

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