The Ralph Stanley Sampler

A highly selective discograph

Stanley has played everywhere from coal mining camps to gin joints to Carnegie Hall. “You can tell my banjo picking from anybody else’s, ” he says. “To my notion, it’s got a keener sound to it.” Below are five Stanley albums that are a must-have for any bluegrass fan.

The Stanley Brothers  and the Clinch Mountain Boys (1959, album cover above) Carter plays guitar and sings lead, while Ralph does some masterful picking on the instrumentals “Clinch Mountain Backstep” and “Midnight Ramble.” His voice shines on “Your Selfish Heart.”

Cry from the Cross (1972)
Stanley’s debut on Rebel Records, featuring a youthful Keith Whitley on guitar and Ricky Skaggs on mandolin. The ballads and gospel songs are vintage Stanley, clean and minimalist, including a cappella versions of “Bright Morning Star” and “Sinner Man.”

Clinch Mountain Gospel (1977) 
Recorded in one all-day session, as old 78 records were, this album features Whitley as lead singer, a perfect complement to Stanley’s tenor, on stellar versions of “Over in the Gloryland,” “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem,” “O Death,” and “Amazing Grace.”

Bound to Ride (1991) 
This collection of twenty 1970s recordings highlights Stanley’s voice on such classics as “Man of Constant Sorrow,” “Ridin’ the Midnight Train,” and “Little Birdie.”

Clinch Mountain Country (1998)
Singing with the likes of Bob Dylan, Dwight Yoakam, Gillian Welch, and Alison Krauss on the International Bluegrass Music Association’s album of the year, Stanley shows off his resonant, soulful voice next to some of his younger admirers, legends in their own right.