Stanley Family Records
No Number

With the passing of Ralph Stanley in 2016, the band name and legacy of the Stanley sound has been handed to Ralph II. That’s a tall order. Adhering to a legendary sound while being yourself musically is not easy. Obviously, Ralph II is not his father nor his uncle. Obviously, the band members—banjoist Alex Leach, bassist Noah Brown and fiddler, mandolinist John Rigsby—are different from the days of Mayo and Shuffler and Shumate. If you were to ask Ralph II about this, he’d probably acknowledge the challenge.

Still, that’s where he starts. Carry the name and the legacy forward, but take it where his talents and style dictate. With the opener, “Henry Brown,” Ralph II makes a direct nod to the past. He wrote the song, a fast number about a town drunk who can’t shake his demons. The tune is somewhat in the “How Mountain Girls Can Love” style, a touch of echoed studio production thrown in to round it off. He even colors up his own distinct, rougher-hewn voice with some Carter Stanley inflections and phrasing. It’s a good start.

From there, the sound shifts. Though there are times when the older Stanley-style of endlessly rolling banjo, old-time fiddle, and Shuffler guitar shines through (“On Boot Hill,” “Fortune Fame Freedom,” “Goin’ Round This World,” “Mary Merry Christmas,” and the instrumental “Cannonball Blues” on which Ralph II plays excellent lead guitar), there are new directions. That is certainly true of the softer, gentle country sound of “Road Going Home,” the patriotic “Wave On Old Glory,” the swinging country of Bill Castle’s “Don’t Point Your Finger,” and George Jones’ “Life To Go.” It’s also certainly true of Ralph II’s “Raining In My Heart.” But, if you let go of expectations, you’ll find this is a very good album and a very good band with a style that is both its own—and its legacy. (Stanley Family Records, 197 Pond Ridge, Coeburn, VA 24230, www.ralph2.com.)BW

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