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Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys

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RALPH STANLEY & the CLINCH MOUNTAIN BOYS

They don't come much more legendary than Ralph Stanley, the banjo master who for two decades led one of the greatest bluegrass bands of all time with his brother, Carter. If he'd thrown in the towel when Carter died, in 1966, he'd still be revered for his post-Earl Scruggs instrumental fluency and his soaring, soulful tenor. But he didn't, and over the last 30 years he's remained a vital figure, recording and touring prolifically and discovering talent like Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley in the process. Though he's never exactly rested on his laurels, for most of the 90s Stanley has basked in the adulation of the country mainstream, which has belatedly recognized that his early work served as a crucial bridge from old-timey music to modern country. On the 1992 album Saturday Night & Sunday Morning (Freeland) and last year's Clinch Mountain Country (Rebel), stars as diverse as Bill Monroe, George Jones, Vince Gill, Dwight Yoakam, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Tom T. Hall, John Anderson, Bob Dylan, BR5-49, Gillian Welch, and Kathy Mattea joined him in warm duets. One of the participants on the latter collection was ace Nashville songwriter Jim Lauderdale, and the two apparently hit it off. Lauderdale's 1997 album, Whisper (RCA), ended with the rousing "I'll Lead You Home," backed by Stanley and his band, the Clinch Mountain Boys, and recently Rebel issued I Feel Like Singing Today, a full-length collaboration featuring nine Lauderdale originals penned specifically for the occasion. While the pair is clearly on Stanley's turf, the elder statesman is game for any challenge, tearing into the new songs like he's been singing them all his life. Any Clinch Mountain Boys gig is noteworthy, but these sets, at this intimate venue, are a don't-miss. As an added bonus Lauderdale, who performs with his own band on Saturday (see separate Critic's Choice), will sit in. On his own he's a decent enough vocalist, but singing harmonies with Stanley incalculably magnifies his talents. At press time the late show was sold-out. Sunday, 6 and 8:30 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508. PETER MARGASAK

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