Music News

Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys

Five years ago, the unexpected, runaway popularity of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack propelled Ralph Stanley into the American mainstream, his contribution earning him a Grammy and enough royalties to finally tool around in a shiny black Jaguar. On the downside, the deeply religious 78-year-old bluegrass legend still can't get a whiff from most country radio stations, whose excruciating playlists are more dedicated to redneck women and kickin' Iraqi butt than the high-lonesome, sacred sound of old-time mountain music. Their loss. But for folks who prefer the genuine article, Dr. Stanley (a nickname he earned along with an honorary doctorate in music from Tennessee's Lincoln Memorial University) magically turns the Front Range into Clinch Mountain tonight, leading a crack team of hoedown experts: rhythm guitarist (and son) Ralph Stanley Jr., lead guitarist James Shelton, bassist Jack Cooke, fiddler James Price, banjoist Steve Sparkman and mandolinist John Rigsby. With an otherworldly voice and a blazing, three-fingered claw-hammer style of banjo-picking that he learned at his mother's knee in the back hills of Virginia, Stanley transforms grief into an art form.
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John La Briola