Music

The Stanley Brothers: Earliest Recordings: The Complete Rich-R-Tone 78s (1947-1952)

Jill LaBrack

Get out your notebooks. The Stanley Brothers have an important lesson to teach you. Don't forget to bring your humanity.


The Stanley Brothers

Earliest Recordings: the Complete Rich-R-Tone 78s (1947-1952)

Label: 1947-1952
US Release Date: 2005-04-12
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

This one doesn't get a rating. It's essential, to use a word that is thrown around quite a bit. If you already own some Stanley Brothers, you can certainly live and breathe without this release, but your life would be better with it. If you needed a place to start within bluegrass, this would be an excellent choice. If you're a budding musicologist, you would be remiss to pass over this release, which helps to chronicle the birth of a genre. But beyond being Important, this release is that rare find in the universe of early (non-classical) recordings, in that it is undeniably listenable through-and-through. From Robert Johnson to the Carter Family to Blind Willie Johnson, compilations of this kind have relied on the patience of the listener to help provide the immense payoff of the music. In order to provide needed historical accuracy and completeness, tracks are sometimes repeated, poor quality 78s are worked to the best of the technician's ability, and lesser quality songs are included to present a complete picture. This is not a judgment at all; it is merely a small fact. The ear can certainly be trained to find the song behind the hiss, or to take into account the lives of past generations to provide a fuller picture, and therefore appreciation, of these recordings. Anyone serious about music can actually find these roadblocks to be part of the appeal. To feel the beginnings of a music world being created is incredibly gratifying, despite any flaws, inherent or otherwise.

That said, the Stanley Brothers' Earliest Recordings: The Complete Rich-R-Tone 78s (1947-1952) is a rare anomaly in early recordings. In 14 songs and 35 minutes, this release is a joy of a CD, in and of itself. Sure, there's some hiss involved and a couple of songs are slight, but it plays as a finished piece of art. It is assured and interesting, both playful and mournful. It speaks of a rich aural history lesson while remaining strongly tied to humanity in general. Christopher King's remastering is exceptional and warm. Where Earliest Recordings pulls through the most, though, is in the feeling (not the reality) that this was recorded as an album. It does not sound like single tracks recorded over a time period of five years. It sounds like a vision realized.

The themes are typical, but no less haunting for that. There's infidelity, murder, early deaths, and religion. The world often sounds ominous and love is something that can turn to bloodshed in a moment's time. Listening to this collection there is the feeling that the goth scene got it wrong (relying too much on melodrama instead of the dark and the light). Marry dark lyrics with sprightly banjo and guitar playing, add voices that sound like hungover cherubs, and then try to top the "unsettling" factor. Yet, there are moments of respite that sound like the soundtrack to an amazing dream (that turns into a nightmare at the end, but never mind that). "Little Birdie" could be a children's song, in all of its simple earnestness. "The Girl Behind the Bar" is an upbeat closer, despite the fact that a woman gets stabbed in the back. Most impressive is "Death is Only a Dream". It's the type of song that is spooky, gorgeous, and moving from the very first listen, and then only becomes more so until by the tenth listen you're thinking it could possibly be one of the best songs you've ever heard.

Sure, this CD could be assigned a 10 rating. But quibbles over the perfection of it would be warranted. The sound is understandably lacking on some tracks, it is definitely "genre" music, meaning there are those who will dislike it simply because it is bluegrass, and it could certainly be considered anachronistic. All that aside, putting this collection of Carter and Ralph Stanley gems beyond a rating is the most honest thing to do. Earliest Recordings goes beyond a history lesson and delves into the soul. That has nothing to do with a rating. Quite simply, it stands the test of time. What could be better than that, flaws and all?

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image