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Ralph Stanley II - This One Is Two
Review By: George Peden, CSO Staff Journalist
11/18/08

I’ve 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?

You betcha!

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 bullseye perfect.

Cold 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.

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