CD Reviews: Ralph Stanley II, Robert Plant with Alison Krauss
New Releases Range From Country to Soft Rock
By JOE TENNIS | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER | March 16, 2009*** Published: March 12, 2009 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***
RALPH STANLEY II, "This One Is Two" (Lonesome Day Records)
Being the son of a famous musician might open a few doors. Certainly, that has helped the career of Ralph Stanley's namesake.
Yet Ralph Stanley II, who grew up in Dickenson County, Va., does not sing with the smoky intonations of his father. Nor is his music so strictly traditional that he insist it be called "old-time" and not "bluegrass."
The younger Stanley's solo career has, in recent releases, leaned more toward country – and, by far, sounded much more mainstream – than his 81-year-old father.
Such is the sound of "This One Is Two," an album born of a completely different fabric than Stanley's debut solo set, "Listen To My Hammer Ring."
In 1998, that 12-song collection of raucous old-time and bluegrass tunes featured his famous father on tenor vocals.
A decade later, "This One Is Two" flows with a modern maturity – obviously, the benefit of being 10 years older and wiser.
Here, Stanley ruminates about life on the road with "Honky Tonk Way" and "If This Old Guitar Could Talk," and pays homage to the beauties of the Peachtree State with Elton John's "Georgia."
The singer co-wrote two songs on this set. Other tunes come from Tom T. Hall ("Train Song"), Lyle Lovett ("L.A. County"), Garth Brooks ("Cold Shoulder") and Townes Van Zandt ("Loretta").
Stanley also addresses the legacy of his late uncle with Fred Eaglesmith's "Carter," a song about Ralph's brother and musical partner, Carter Stanley, who died more than 40 years ago – even before the younger Ralph was born.
Vocally, the younger Stanley still sings with shades of Keith Whitley in his voice, but his style resonates now more akin to the satisfying wavers of Randy Travis.
"This One is Two" is pure country. And solid.
ROBERT PLANT and ALISON KRAUSS, "Raising Sand" (Rounder)
A big night at the Grammys – with multiple wins – shined more light on the recent vocal combination of Robert Plant singing with Alison Krauss.
A godfather of hard rock, known for a dozen years as the frontman for Led Zeppelin, Plant might, on the surface, seem an unlikely match for Krauss, the angelic-voiced fiddler who was once the darling of bluegrass music – and one, too, who dared stretch its limits.
But to know Plant through all the years is to know that the one-of-a-kind crooner has always been up for a musical challenge – and is clearly interested in a variety of styles.
So comes "Raising Sand," the Grammy-winning duet album of largely acoustic tunes and soft rockers that should not be overlooked by any fan of Led Zeppelin or Krauss.
This pair of tall talents rolls through 13 tracks, skillfully produced by T. Bone Burnett. The hit "Gone Gone Gone" rocks with a funky groove, while "Please Read the Letter" shows a more plaintive side, capable of lifting heartstrings.
From "Rich Woman" to "Fortune Teller," this entire album is a joyous musical journey.
Bottom line: It would be a crime if this pair did not record together again..