Short Life Of Trouble: Songs of Grayson and Whitter - Ralph Stanley

Short Life Of Trouble:
Songs of Grayson and Whitter

Ralph Stanley

(Reb-CD-1735)

Rebel Records
P.O. Box 3057
Roanoke, Virginia 24015

A review written for the Folk and Music Exchange
by Mark O'Donnell
(modonn6311@aol.com)

Bluegrass has contributed more extraordinary duos than most any other kind of popular music this century. The Monroes, the McReynolds, the Louvins, Flatt and Scruggs, Welch and Rawlings to name a few. With Short Life Of Trouble: Songs of Grayson and Whitter Ralph Stanley, a noted member of one of the last of the great duos, brings his tribute to a couple of the lesser known but still influential bluegrass troubadours, William Grayson and Henry Whitter. Known to Ralph and brother Carter from their earliest days, Grayson and Whitter had a remarkably short recording life lasting only from 1927-29. They made their time in the studio count, however, issuing a series of popular sides that continued to influence musicians, particularly fiddlers taken with the Grayson style, on into the sixties when reissues of some of their best known recordings were released on vinyl. One of those recordings, Train 45, given Ralph's mark here, sold some 50,000 copies in 1927 and continued to sell thousands upon re-release. Tunes like Lee Highway Blues, The Banks of Ohio, and Tom Dooley (the first recording of this famed murder ballad) were a well-known part of the Grayson-Whitter repertoire.

With Short Life Of Trouble Dr. Ralph Stanley, working notably with his son Ralph II, puts his own spin on this remarkable roots music. Kicking off with Train 45, the Grayson-Whitter tunes roll on out. The themes are not unusual for bluegrass--heartache (Nobody's Darlin'), murder (Rose Co'n'l'e'y), the road (I've Always Been a Rambler), poverty (the title track)--and the Scotch-Irish roots (Handsome Molly" and On The Banks Of Old Tennessee). Also very much present are the good times, the tall tales (Jo'k'i'ng H'en'r'y) and the rollicking picking fests (Shout "Lul'a') that give a great deal of room for Ralph and his colleagues to stretch and show their stuff. The duo of Ralph and Ralph II on A 'Dark 'Road Is A Hard Road To Travel will serve to remind you of that other great duo, The Stanley Brothers, and how much Carter contributed to the evolution of bluegrass. Ralph II, though a bit constrained here, gives one a reason to go and see the Clinch Mountain Boys (Ralph senior's long time group) as there is a lot of Carter there.

Regrettably, there are no CDs of G.B. Grayson and Henry Whitter currently available. With Short Life Of Trouble Ralph Stanley gives us the next best thing: a tight ensemble featuring the heartfelt voice of Ralph with his trademark banjo, the steady rhythm guitar and crisp tenor of Ralph II, James Price's fiddle so important to the Grayson-Whitter feel, and John Rigsby's tenor vocals and outstanding mandolin. Though an extremely short CD (one wishes that some of the chestnuts mentioned above had been added), it is time that Grayson and Whitter were given the recognition they deserved and no one could do it better than Dr. Ralph does here. If you love old time bluegrass, this tribute is well worth your while.

Songs

  • Train 45
  • Rose Conley
  • Joking Henry
  • Nobody's Darling
  • I've Always Been a Rambler
  • Short Life of Trouble
  • Nine Pound Hammer
  • Handsome Molly
  • Shout Lula
  • He's Coming To Us Dead
  • A Dark Road Is A Hard Road To Travel
  • On The Banks Of Old Tennessee

Playing Time: 29:15
[Edited by: Paula Gregorowicz]

Copyright 1999, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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