november 2008

Ralph Stanley II
Lonesome Day Records

Ralph Stanley II is now five albums into a solo career, and with this, the fifth, he makes his strongest case yet for stepping out of his legendary father's long shadow and being considered on his own merits. This One Is Two consolidates the strengths of the previous four solo efforts-strong songs, emotionally fired vocals, superior musicianship-and adds Stanley's own assured presence as his own man.

You can hear his burgeoning confidence in his vocal attack, in the boisterous energy he delivers in charging through Tom T. Hall's jubilant ode to the steel rail, "Train Songs," which gets an extra burst of energy from the feisty soloing of fiddler Tim Crouch, dobroist Randy Kohrs and banjo man Ron Stewart, and, alternatively, in the depth of his baritone lament to a beloved, departed mother, the beautiful "Moms Are the Reason Wild Flowers Grow," a touching tribute to moms in general made all the more poignant by Crouch's beautiful twin-fiddle fills. Although he's likely never to stray too far from bluegrass-it's in the blood, after all-Stanley II is making his most forceful hard country statement yet on this outing, and venturing farther afield than he ever has for material. From the pen of Lyle Lovett comes a chilling murder ballad, "L.A. County"; the album kicks off with a fiddle-rich version of Garth Brooks's heart tugging musings on heartbreak and loneliness, "Cold Shoulder"; from Townes Van Zandt he picks up the gently swaying, slightly conflicted love song, "Loretta"; and from an Elton John-Gary Osborne collaboration comes "Georgia," an evocative, heartfelt evocation of a land and a people for which a weary narrator pines, his plea given added resonance by the rustic arrangement that finds fiddler Crouch, dobroist Kohrs and mandolin master Adam Steffey adding the appropriate backwoods atmosphere in their richly textured solos. Stanley II, who bears a striking vocal resemblance to Randy Travis, saves his deepest performances for two songs close to his own heart: Fred Eaglesmith's sensitive reflections on Carter Stanley, in the song "Carter," a concise, almost prayerful evocation of the essence of the man's spirit; and his own co-write with Marty Raybon, "Lord Help Me Find The Way," an introspective, forthright admission of feeling inadequate to follow in his father's footsteps, which are simultaneously linked to thoughts of mortality. "Tryin' to fill his shoes/is the hardest thing I know/It's not living for the legend/it's the dad that I love so/so Lord help me find a way/to bless me with the words that I want to say/Lord, help me find the way/to be the man he wants me to be/each and every day," Stanley II sings with direct, and unashamed, candor over a pure mountain instrumental cry supplied by Kohrs and Crouch. Sounds like Ralph Stanley II's priorities are in order, though, and This One Is Two underscores why he'll get to where he wants to go.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024