Bluegrass Legend Ralph Stanley Dies

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Rob Crawford – Ralph Stanley

On Thursday, June 23, 2016 we lost Bluegrass Legend, banjoist and vocalist Ralph Stanley. I remember when I first heard Ralph Stanley. It was back in the early 1990’s and I was listening to the Bluegrass station and his version of “Orange Blossom Special” came on. It was like nothing I ever heard. It was Bluegrass gone Heavy Metal.

I then began going through his catalog and come t find out, I heard many of his songs back in the early 1980’s. Either way, he was one hell of a banjoist, songwriter and vocalist.

Live! From Austin City Limits: The Earl Scruggs Revue

Rating: 80%

earlscruggs.jpgSo looking through the Country music section at an antique store, I came across the Earl Scruggs Revue “Live” released in 1977. I figured “What the Hell!, I picked up two Lester Flatt records last weekend.” Lester Flatts and Earl Scruggs did release several albums together. The record features Randy Scruggs on guitar and fiddle, Gary Scruggs on bass and vocals, Steve Scruggs on piano, Jody  Maphis on drums, Jim Murphy on steel guitar and the legendary banjoist himself, Earl Scruggs.

The performance itself is very good.  The musicianship is excellent. The track listing on the record blends country, bluegrass, rock n’ roll, blues and some progressive music together like no other country band has done before.

The first side features some really good faster tempo music. Earl’s banjo is situated in the forefront of it all. Lot’s of good bass lines, drumming and guitar work. The steel guitar is exceptional. The vocals to me are out of place with the music. I just can’t seem to put my figure on it. It’s almost like listening to Vince Gill mixed with Grandpa Jones, which is why I gave this record a just above average rating. Don’t get me wrong, it all blends in well, and the music is fine.

Upon turning the record over to the second side, the bluesy and yet jazzy song “I Just Can’t Seem To Care” begins to play. It has some very fine saxophone and piano work that is mixed with harmonica, banjo and guitar work. After that song, “Black Mountain Blues” is the second song that goes right back into traditional bluegrass. “Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven” is the third song on the second side that goes back into traditional blues. It’s very mellow and sounds great. The banjo, steel guitar and the guitar leads are very good, leaving the classic bluegrass and country behind.

Track listing:

Side One:

1 Nashville Skyline Rag
2 I Shall Be Released
3 Band Intro
4 Sally Gooding
5 Tall Texas Woman
6 Earl’s Breakdown

Side Two:

7 I Just Can’t Seem To Care
8 Black Mountain Blues
9 Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven
10 The Swimming Song
11 Stay All Night

Bluegrass Festival: Lester Flatt Live!

Rating: 85%

lesterflattIn 1974, Lester Flatt along with special guest Bill Monroe released a live album simply called “Lester Flatt Live!” It has a good collection of songs and classic hits that Lester Flatt wrote or co-wrote.  One thing that I found interesting is that Marty Stuart played the mandolin on this album. He eventually became a country music star.

The musicianship during this performance is outstanding. I love how the audience is involved on the album. There’s plenty of banjo, throughout the entire performance. Lot’s of good guitar work, fiddle and bass lines. The sound quality is good from the music to the vocal work of Lester Flatt and Bill Monroe.

Some of the songs on here that stand out during this recording is “Orange Blossom Special” which is a fast tempo, lot’s of banjo and a fiddle that steals the show. I have always loved this version of “Orange Blossom Special.” “Nine Pound Hammer” is another good song that sticks out on this live performance. It’s a story about John Henry who ran against the machine laying tracks and how his hammer was faster in placing those spikes into the ground.

I always enjoyed Bluegrass music as I was brought up on it. I might love Heavy Metal music, but bluegrass music has always flowed through my veins. Listening to this album on my record player brings back a lot of memories of me as a child when I listened to my father play his banjo.

Track listing:

A-1. Foggy Mountain breakdown 0:35
A-2. Lost all my money 1:33
A-3. Homestead on the farm 2:33
A-4. Rawhide 2:32
A-5. Wabash cannon ball 3:28
A-6. Orange Blossom Special 2:25
A-7. Nine pound hammer 2:43
B-1. Flint Hill special 2:25
B-2. Get in line brother 2:31
B-3. Blue moon of Kentucky Bill Monroe & his Blue Grass Boys 2:09
B-4. Will you be lovin’ another man Bill Monroe & Lester Flatt 1:43
B-5. Little cabin home on the hill Bill Monroe & Lester Flatt 2:50
B-6. Salty dog blues 2:01
B-7. Dig a hole in the meadow 2:03
B-8. Cumberland Gap 2:12

Self Titled: New Grass Revival

Rating: 100%

newgrass.jpgIn 1972, New Grass Rival released their debut record taking Bluegrass music where it had never gone before…or…at least where it came from. They added the Jazz elements back into the bluegrass sound creating a form of progressive bluegrass music.  The band in 1972, consisted of mandolin and fiddle player Sam Bush, banjoist Courtney Johnson, guitarist and Dobro player Curtis Burch and upright bassist Ebo Walker.

I purchased this cassette tape in Nashville back in the early 1990’s.  I had heard of this band from their second lineup in the 1980’s which was more progressive than bluegrass music. But when I pop this tape into my walkman, and heard the opening track, I was blown away for several reasons. The first, was the fast tempos and certain offbeats that are used. Secondly, the harmony and melody of the entire record. It was like almost listening to rock music of the day. Thirdly, the feel of the music being so close to you. And finally, the raw energy that was created. This wasn’t your standard bluegrass record of the day.

The song structures are very good. Each song is different, meaning you wont find many of the filler music within the album. The banjo sounds great. The guitar and Dobro portions are wonderful. The bass and fiddle work is amazing. The vocal work is unlike modern bluegrass and based more upon tradition. Listen to “Body and Soul.” The entire album was done well, giving you a feeling that the music is played live.

Track listing:

1.”Pennies In My Pocket”
2.”Cold Sailor”
3.”I Wish I Said (I Love You One More Time)”
4.”Prince of Peace”
5.”Ginseng Sullivan”
6.”Whisper My Name”
7.”Great Balls of Fire”
8.”Lonesome Fiddle Blues”
9.”Body and Soul”
10.”With Care From Someone

Blue Grass Banjos on Fire: Homer and the Barnstormers

Rating: 75%

homer.jpgReleased in 1964, Homer and the Barnstormers released “Blue Grass Banjos on Fire.” The album itself, I picked up at Fayetteville, PA for about $1.00. this album features a collection of timeless classics covered by Homer and his band. Not a lot of information is out there about who Homer and the Barnstormers were. An alternative album cover exists for this record that features a picture of the banjo body.  In 1980, a revised edition of the album was released called “Flaming Banjos.”

The sound quality of the vinyl gives the album an old time feel as if you are listening to the music as it was meant to be heard. The music is absolutely beautiful. Lots of tempo, harmony and melody. Musically, the covers are done in classic style with mostly instrumentals and very little singing. The banjos are storming across the entire and are the focal point of the material. The fiddle adds a nice touch along with the guitar.

If your a fan of Bluegrass, try to find this album and give it a listen to. I am sure that you will enjoy this timeless classic. The only reason why rated this as a 75% is because of the fact that the music is all covers. But I am sure that if there was some original work out there, the rating would be much higher. I grew up on bluegrass as my roots are deep in Appalachia. I am very proud of my Appalachia heritage and when I hear music like this, it reminds me of my home in the mountains.

Track listing:
A1 Beverly Hillbillies Theme (Ballad Of Jed Clampett)
A2 Fire On The Mountain
A3 Stay All Night
A4 Arkansas Traveler
A5 Careless Love
A6 Grandfather’s Clock
B1 Cumberland Gap
B2 Goin’ Up Cripple Creek
B3 Ole’ Joe Clark
B4 Camptons Races
B5 Ole’ Dan Tucker
B6 Blue Grass Blossoms

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1980 re-release cover.

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Alternative cover.

Kentucky: Panopticon

Rating: 75%

io-review_panopticon-k_hOk, Atmospheric Black Metal mixed with American Folk music and Bluegrass. Sounds weird, right? Well…it’s not as far fetched as one would believe. Panopticon, which is a one man band by Austin L. Lunn, Austin, a very talented musician plays every instrument from the drums, bass, guitars and yes, banjo and fiddle on the Kentucky record. This record was released in 2012 and features a collection of songs that are bluegrass and black metal and sometimes the two go hand and hand on the same song. The final cut, is an Appalachian masterpiece. The Black Metal songs on this record are long coming in over ten minutes. The Bluegrass songs come in under five minutes.

While, I admit, Austin is talented, the record production is flawed with some background noise and at times, there seems to be a lot going on. The music has structure, it’s epic in which it tells a story of the coal miners. The harsh shrills and the rapid drum work are classic Black Metal. Then, the album also features American traditional sounds and the vocals are just as clean as water. If Austin wanted to, I believe he could take Bluegrass back from the mainstream pop world and make it to what it should be, music from Appalachia.

The album opens with an instrumental banjo and fiddle piece which sets the tone for the record. The music is good and very traditional. “Bodies Under The Falls” opens with full throttle fast double bass drums, flute, rapid bass and guitar with the shrills and growls that Black Metal is known for. Then the song fades to traditional bluegrass and head right back into Black Metal.

Bottom line, if you like something different, then this album would be a great piece to add to your collection.

Track listing:

1. Bernheim Forest in Spring 02:54 instrumental
2. Bodies Under the Falls 10:28
3. Come All Ye Coal Miners 04:13
4. Black Soot and Red Blood 10:11
5. Which Side Are You On? 03:00
6. Killing the Giants as They Sleep 12:25
7. Black Waters 04:57
8. Kentucky 03:21 instrumental