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Ralph Stanley

A Distant Land to Roam: Songs of the Carter Family (DMZ/Columbia)

Ralph Stanley's high, lonesome tenor has defined the art of bluegrass singing for more than 55 years, and although his top end is a bit rough these days, it adds authenticity to the voice of a man who has lived the hard life he sings about. The Carter Family cut some of the first country music hits, including "Wildwood Flower," but for this tribute, Stanley showcases tunes imbued with the family's simple religious faith. Mike Seeger's autoharp and James Allen Shelton's Carter-style guitar give the tunes some authentic flavor, but Stanley's raw, affecting vocals are the main attraction. "Longing for Home," with a beautiful autoharp solo from Seeger, shows Stanley's ability to infuse the material with a transcendent faith. "Orphan Child" has a jaunty rhythm and a rousing call-and-response vocal from Stanley's longtime backing band, the Clinch Mountain Boys, while "Motherless Children" is delivered almost a cappella, with only a few wailing fiddle notes to accent the song's grimly moving lyric.

 
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