It's easy to understand why a sky full of country and folk stars--headed by Bob Dylan, Dwight Yoakam and Vince Gill--would want to pay tribute to bluegrass giant Ralph Stanley by joining him on this two-CD set of stone-traditional bluegrass, country and gospel nuggets.
The attraction of songs expressing primal human desires, dreams, fears and sorrows is even stronger given contemporary country music's evasion of those themes in favor of warm and fuzzy feel-goodism.
George Jones, Alison Krauss, Porter Wagoner, Jim Lauderdale, Patty Loveless, Ricky Skaggs, John Anderson, Junior Brown, Gillian Welch and a dozen others--young and old, purists and boundary-benders--are operating at their inspired best.
The richness of the music begins with a total lack of songwriting artifice; these tunes are about conveying emotions, not selling records. It extends with sometimes exquisite, sometimes dissonant two- and three-part bluegrass harmonies that underscore the sweetness of life when it's good and the heartbreak when it's not.
It makes an ideal introduction to, and summary of, this seminal American popular music form.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).
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* Excerpts from these albums and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/sound clips