Ralph Stanley & His Clinch Mountain Boys, Cherryholmes | Symphony Center | Folk & Country | Chicago Reader

Ralph Stanley & His Clinch Mountain Boys, Cherryholmes Recommended Soundboard Critics' Picks

When: Sat., April 16, 8 p.m. 2011

Now 84, Ralph Stanley is one of the last living links to the earliest days of bluegrass, and while his voice has roughened around the edges and lost a good bit of its clarion tone, its soulfulness isn't diminished at all. On his new album, A Mother's Prayer (Rebel), he once again digs into the genre's gospel repertoire, unearthing tunes that rarely turn up on recordings by younger bluegrass artists—including "John the Revelator," a song made famous by blues preacher Blind Willie Johnson, which Stanley treats to a gripping a cappella take. That track is one of several to isolate Stanley's voice, an instrument with an undeniable magnetism, and it's these tunes that best convey his wisdom and intimacy with the material. Of course, the tracks with his band the Clinch Mountain Boys are also potent, especially when the group tackles vintage material—Stanley's latest take on the standard "Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb" sounds as fresh and poignant as any I've heard. He first cut "Come All Ye Tenderhearted" more than 50 years ago, when he was playing with his brother Carter, and this version uses stark spoken passages and a bowed bass line intended to evoke the pealing sound of Uilleann pipes. Stanley's advanced age is a good argument to see him before it's too late, but his continued vitality is a much better one. —Peter Margasak

Price: $20-$60

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