Ralph Stanley – A Mother’s Prayer

Ralph Stanley - A Mother's Prayer - Bluegrass UnlimitedRALPH STANLEY
Rebel Records

At age 84, the venerable Ralph Stanley, at least in the cover photo on this stark new gospel collection, looks like a prophet;
a prophet whose unwavering faith is anchored in long-ago childhood days when he worshipped alongside his mother in small, back-country, southern Virginia chapels.

A Mother’s Prayer is comprised of a few traditional gospel numbers (“Come All Ye Tenderhearted,” “Prince Of Peace,” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “John The Revelator”) along with quite a few more contemporary tunes. The latter include the title song (co-written by Ronnie Bowman and Shawn Lane), “Let It Go” penned by Sara Evans and Billy and Terry Smith, “What Kind Of Man,” co-written some years ago by Ralph with Larry Sparks, and “He Suffered For My Reward,” an original contribution from Ralph’s grandson Nathan. Stanley’s son, Ralph II, produced this album and plays rhythm guitar throughout.
Stanley, backed by his stalwart Clinch Mountain Boys, makes this hodge-podge of old and new songs sound seamless. He imbues them all with a haunting tone of ageless rusticity that not only revisits his deep Appalachian roots, but at times even seems to echo with an almost medieval-sounding melancholy. You can hear this vividly in the unremittingly tragic Appalachian ballad, “Come All Ye Tenderhearted,” which is based on an actual event that occurred in the early 1870s. He delivers this and other masterpieces, such as his a cappella rendition of “Prince Of Peace,” in a powerfully unembellished style, born of a simpler and more challenging time when faith had to endure the constant onslaughts of death, poverty, loss, and grief in a harsh, uncertain world.
This definitive gospel collection is further enhanced by some excellent liner notes from music writer/historian Colin Escott, who incisively summons up Stanley’s place in the greater scheme of American gospel music: “The autumnal recordings of Ralph Stanley are among the last links to the fierce confrontationalism of true Appalachian music…[which] stood square-jawed in the face of adversity.” (Rebel Records, P.O. Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA, 22906, www.rebelrecords.com.) BA

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