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Complete Columbia Brothers
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Given the religious tinge of the Stanley Brothers' music, it is clear that they believe in hope beyond this world, but in their music and especially in Ralph Stanley's magnificently despairing voice, you know that there is hope only in death.
These are songs about loss, despair, sadness, hopelessness, and the futility of life. They are cathartic expressions of deep suffering, acknowledgements that we were born to suffer.
Until recently, the Stanley Brothers were the least known of the three great performers in the history of bluegrass, lagging somewhat behind Bill Monroe on the one hand and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs on the other. But many, and I confess that I am one of them, prefer the Stanley Brothers to the other two. My belief is that bluegrass is a musical genre best served by the human voice, and not by the guitar or the banjo or fiddle. And in the world of bluegrass, it is impossible to surpass the incredible singing of Carter and Ralph Stanley.
The unanticipated success of the soundtrack of O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? may acquaint many previously unfamiliar with the Stanley Brothers with their incredible artistry. The connections between the Stanley Brothers and that movie are many... During the closing credits, the great Stanley Brothers standard "The Angel Band" is played. And the central song in the movie, "I'm a Man of Constant Sorrow," is the Stanley Brothers arrangement of the traditional song.
I loved the music from the movie, and "I'm a Man of Constant Sorrow" in particular, but as fine as the movie version was, it pales in comparison with Ralph Stanley's rendition. Dan Tyminski does a fine job singing in the movie, but his is almost swaggering compared with Ralph's version. Tyminski sounds feisty, bold, almost defiant, whereas Ralph's voice is the perfect embodiment of all the sorrow, pain, and resignation contained in the lyrics of the song. Tyminski doesn't really sound all that much like a man of constant sorrow; Ralph Stanley sounds like nothing else. Tyminski sings the song; Ralph wails it.
Anyone with any serious interest in bluegrass already owns this album, but I believe that anyone with any interest in music in general needs to be intimately acquainted with it as well. This is great music. It is also quite possibly the saddest, most mournful music that has ever been recorded.
Just a word about about vocal credits. On almost all songs the two brothers sang together, but nominally Carter is listed as the lead singer. But for the "rough" songs (like "A Man of Constant Sorrows") they would employ Ralph on the solos. In fact, just about all of the solos are by Ralph, even though Carter is listed as the lead singer. I was confused about a lot of this for a long time, but Ralph Stanley straightened it out on an interview he did with Terry Gross on "Fresh Air." Paradoxically, Carter Stanley was the lead singer on most of their songs even while Ralph took on most of the solos, especially ones where they wanted the rough sound.
All the songs have a world weary pathos to them made more solemn by the sad and lonesome harmonies of the brothers . The songs are about murder , family bereavement , unrequited love and other bleak subjects that we humans have to suffer on earth , but far from being grim they all have a haunting beauty to them that makes these records transcend any musical genre to become profound statements on the human condition .
Beautiful and haunting !
but I never heard him sing it. other than to help
out on the chorus. I know he wrote the song for
Ralph. it has to be just a sample of what Carter
was capable of writing and Ralph's voice out shines
any soul singer I have ever heared.
I grew up in dickenson county about five miles from
Carter and Ralph so they have been my heros since
the late fortys. as far as I'm concerned Carter
Stanley was and still is the greatest (singer)that
ever lived bar none.