Though Ralph Stanley II cut his teeth on his dad and uncle’s mountain stylings, his early solo efforts tended to lean a little more toward a country sound, just like several other Clinch Mountain Boys lead singers – Keith Whitley, Ernie Thacker – who made the leap to a solo career. However, since taking over the Clinch Mountain Boys name several years back, II seems to have made a concerted effort to more fully embrace the hard-edged, traditional Stanley sound. His newest release is a Gospel record, Lord Help Me Find the Way from Stanley Family Records, filled from start to finish with traditional numbers his fans are sure to love.
The opening number is one of the album’s best, a rip-roaring version of Jesus on the Mainline, a good old-timey song that could easily fit on any of the elder Stanley’s 1970s Gospel albums. Stanley is in top vocal condition here, caught up in the excitement and furor of the music. He’s supported by his regular band throughout the album, and they’ve got this one down note for note. Alex Leach’s energetic banjo drives the song along, while John Rigsby offers up plenty of Curly Ray Cline-inspired fiddling. The album ends in much the same mode with a rousing cut of The Stanley Brothers’ I Feel Like Going Home, an earnest ode to what waits beyond the pearly gates.
Though the album’s sound may be decades old, Stanley has pulled from several popular current songwriters here. Two songs come from Donna Ulisse’s pen. The first is New Day in Heaven, a gentle, guitar-led number co-written with Marc Rossi that imagines what it may be like upon arriving in heaven, using the touching image of walking out onto “God’s front porch.” Also from Ulisse, along with her husband Rick Stanley, is Old Family Graveyard. It’s Stanley through and through, offering prayers for a mom and dad who, though now passed on, loved their son and raised him right.
Beautiful Hills of Home, the album’s first single, has been popular on the radio since its release, earning spots for several weeks on Bluegrass Today’s Gospel chart. Penned by Billy and Joan Wise, it honors Ralph and Carter’s legacy in a tasteful and respectful manner, referencing some of their most popular songs as well as Ralph’s early tribute to Carter, Hills of Home. Stanley also honors his father with the second single, Between Fathers and Sons. It’s a well-written number that speaks of the special bond shared by dads and their boys, and the difficult experience of having to let children go as they grow.
Other top songs on the album are John Caught a Vision, which has a dark vibe that brings to mind I Am the Man Thomas, and the Carl Jackson/Ronnie Bowman co-write, Meet Me in Heaven Someday. The harmonies on the latter, courtesy of Leach and Rigsby, are particularly of note. Glory Land is another enjoyable number, not to be confused with either Friends in Gloryland or Over in the Gloryland. It’s a fun, bouncy song with a bit of a unique arrangement.
If you like the Stanley sound, this album’s for you. Leach and Rigsby are two of the finest traditional musicians around, especially when it comes to Stanley-style playing, while Randall Hibbitts’ solid bass playing helps anchor the whole album. With II at the helm, the Clinch Mountain Boys and the notable style that comes with the name are here to stay.
Lord Help Me Find the Way is available from several online retailers, as well as AirPlay Direct for radio programmers.