A Mother’s Prayer
40.46 min • Rebel Records • April 19, 2011
Ralph Stanley is pretty much the undisputed King of American Bluegrass. A master of the banjo, he’s been practicing his craft since 1946 and this album, his latest, proves his still has the chops at the ripe age of 84. A Mother’s Prayer is a collection of old-time and blues gospel numbers, but there is no hellfire and damnation in Stanley’s work, because the church he belongs to believes that all will be reconciled with God.
The album starts with ‘That Home Far Away’, a joyous and nearly riotous fast number singing loudly of the joys of the happiness in heaven after the old life has passed away. It’s one of several stompers on the album; others include ‘It’s Time to Wake Up’, a number about Lazarus and the coming of the resurrection of the dead, ‘Are You Washed in the Blood’, extolling all to leave their old lives behind and follow Christ and the album closer ‘What Kind of Man’, singing of the type of man Christ was, a healer and a friend above all else.
Listening to these fast numbers, you can almost see the stomping and clapping in a country church, where all are loved and saved.
The album has its more somber moments as well, with a track such as ‘Come All Ye Tenderhearted’ being a prime example. It’s a call to those with open hearts to follow God and do well unto their fellow man. It uses the example of a mother losing her home and calling unto God to save her children, and she ends up embracing her children. Accompanied by a nearly droning fiddle, Stanley’s voice echoes powerfully, letting every line ring out with heart.
The best of the more somber numbers is the title track, ‘A Mother’s Prayer’. It is sung through the eyes of a son as he recalls his mother praying daily for God’s protection of her children. She is now lying on her deathbed, and the son doesn’t want to her let her go, but his mother assures him that she’s ready to go and that her prayers will guard him always. The chorus strikes simply and powerfully,
A mother’s prayer, more precious than diamonds,
A mother’s prayer, more precious than gold,
I can still her kneeling there,
Thank God for the power of a mother’s prayer -
Stanley’s voice shines the strongest on the some of the a cappella numbers, the best of which is his cover of the old blues song ‘John the Revelator’, made famous by Son House. While Son’s version was fairly jumpy, the song of one who has hopes to see the coming of God, Stanley’s version slows it way down and sounds more like the testimony of a weary traveler who has seen the coming of God. The starkness of this version showcases the power the eighty-plus year old musician still has.
From the jumpy, excited romps to the most somber tones, A Mother’s Prayer stands as one of the best examples of old-time American gospel music recently released. Even if you’re not a religious person, give this album a spin, it may not save your soul, but it’s still a joy to listen to. Trust me; I’m a pagan and rather notorious for going toe-to-toe with preachers and I still enjoyed Ralph Stanley’s brand of gospel bluegrass.
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