Record Reviews 

New releases by two second-generation bluegrass artists clearly show the old saying is true: The acorn doesn't fall far from the tree. In recent years bluegrass has moved into the spotlight for several reasons, and distinctions within the genre have become clearer, even to the inexperienced listener. The style of Ralph Stanley Sr., long recognized as one of the two pivotal figures in bluegrass (Bill Monroe being the other), tends to be a bit slower and more traditional. Del McCoury, a member of Monroe's Bluegrass Boys in the early '60s who left to do his own thing, has a more intense and edgy approach, heavy on complex melodies and dexterous playing.

Ralph Stanley II (aka "Two") adds a more traditional country flavor to the Clinch Mountain Boys sound on his new CD. With Ralph Sr. and the rest of the band on just about every track, it's not much different from the band's other recordings, except for Two's deeper voice singing lead. Interestingly, when the older Stanley sings harmony the sound is reminiscent of the original Stanley Brothers, when Ralph Sr.'s late brother Carter was in the band. Overall, Pretty Girls, City Lights showcases Two's distinctive voice nicely, though there's nothing earthshaking or progressive about the music.

Ronnie McCoury fares quite a bit better with his first solo album, mainly due to his willingness to use a variety of backup musicians, including but not limited to his dad's band (who appear on less than half of the 13 tracks). With help from luminaries such as Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas and David Grisman, the young McCoury shows he's at the forefront of the field.

He composed nine of the songs, all of which show both a firm grasp of the bluegrass traditions and a willingness to experiment with modern sounds. His voice, though remarkably similar to the elder McCoury, does not undermine the fact that Ronnie has made his own album here. A near-perfect blend of the old and the new, it's just what the Del McCoury Band has done so well for the last several years. Now we get to hear it from Ronnie's perspective.


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