heard a lot of music and listened to many albums this year
at CSO Central. As we approach year’s end I’m left with a
question. Could Ralph Stanley II’s This One Is Two be
one of the best I’ve heard for 2008?
This is a class album; at least
to my often musically shell shocked ears. With so much
floss, image-driven hype, and the constant attack on the
aural and visual senses by radio and TV, it’s pleasing to
hear an album pleasurable for its sheer artistry. They’re
heady words, but if you doubt me read on…then get the album.
The playing here is smooth, neat
and tight, courtesy of noted names like Tim Crouch, Cody
Kirby, Randy Kohrs, and harmony help like Jim Lauderdale,
Marty Raybon and Darren Vincent, to name a few. The lyrical
content skirts the borders of heartache, trains, sad and
lonely jails and warm guns. For those who like their country
real, vibrant and gritty, this album is a treasure. But
that’s only part of why this is such a pleasing album in
bluegrass feel and fashion.
There’s the voice. For this son
of bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, the vocal is pure
country. There’s a depth, a soul, an anchor to the pain,
just as there’s a raw and honest strain on the less
emotion-steeped tracks. But right across these 11 tracks
there’s energy and a palpable feel, all with a conviction
that is honest and keen.
It doesn’t get any better – well
it does, the more you play it.
For Stanley – “Two” to his
friends – this album stands tall, with superb playing, a
made for country voice, and a song choice that fully
supports the other two legs of the album. The album wins
from the opening wail of fiddles on the Garth Brooks
co-penned trucking saga “Cold Shoulder”. The song, a
remembered cut from the hatted Oklahoman off his Ropin’ The
Wind (1991) album, comes reworked with all the style
expected from a guy who’s spent his life either watching
music or playing it.
Just like the music with not a
bum note in range, the tune choice here is spot on and
Shoulder”, while a top-drawer track, isn’t the only
standout. The Fred Eaglesmith-penned “Carter,” the Tom T.
Hall classic “Train Songs,” the tale of love’s
disappointment and subsequent warm revenge, played out on
“LA County,” a Lyle Lovett tune, are all on the money.
Reflective truth plays out, and so honestly, on the inspired
“Moms Are The Reason Wild Flowers Grow,” while “Honky Tonk
Way” – one of two Stanley album co-writes -- proves there’s
more to roaming the road than just riding an Eagle tour bus.
This is a double thumbs-up
release, out now on Lonesome Day Records. I’ve heard a lot
of music this year at CSO Central. This is one of the best.