Personnel: Ralph Stanley (vocals); John Rigsby (tenor, mandolin); James Alan Shelton (guitar); Steve Sparkman (banjo); Dewey Brown (fiddle).
Audio Mixers: James Alan Shelton; Alan Maggard.
Liner Note Author: Colin Escott.
Recording information: Maggard Sound Studio, Big Stone Gap, VA.
Photographers: Deni McIntyre; Will McIntyre.
Dr. Ralph Stanley has been singing and playing bluegrass music since 1947, and after more than 50 years, his music has changed remarkably little: his voice may be rougher and more fragile than it was in his youth, but he still sings with a fierce and unaffected mountain purity, and he continues to lead a solid acoustic band that performs this music with a balance of virtuoso skill and little need for flash and filigree. Stanley's topics haven't even changed much, either; just as when he started out with his brother Carter Stanley, gospel tunes are still a large part of his repertoire, and 2011's A Mother's Prayer is yet another set of Christian bluegrass numbers concerning the challenges of the mortal world and the salvation and solace of faith, sometimes retelling stories from the bible and other times focusing on the trials of everyday life. A Mother's Prayer doesn't contribute anything particularly new to Stanley's catalog, but does anyone want to hear this man try to reinvent the wheel at the age of 84? Stanley is a living legend of bluegrass, and A Mother's Prayer is an album that documents him playing just the sort of music he helped build into a true American art form; he no longer has the voice of a young man, but the conviction of his vocals remains strong and clear, and when he sings "Are You Washed in the Blood," "John the Revelator," or "It's Time to Wake Up," what he delivers is fervent and sincere. And his latest edition of the Clinch Mountain Boys (featuring both his son and grandson on guitars) is an expert ensemble, playing this music with admirable taste and concision. A Mother's Prayer is the sort of album Dr. Ralph Stanley has quite literally been making for decades, but he's made them well before and he continues to play and sing as if this is what the Lord meant him to do; there are plenty of acts is bluegrass who will never sound this powerful at half his age and at twice his strength, and it's a good thing he's still around, showing how it should be done. ~ Mark Deming