Ralph Stanley at the Texas Union Theatre

I keep telling everyone…SEE THE LEGENDS WHILE THEY’RE AROUND.  Ralph Stanley certainly qualifies: along with innovators such as his brother Carter and Bill Monroe, he sped-up old time rural songs and mountain music and invented bluegrass. He has seemingly been around since Forever, but before he passes into the Beyond, he stopped through Austin one more time. Bluegrass uses a lot of Gmajor, Cmajor, and Dmajor chords just like your cousins unnamed punk band, but with rapid-fire fiddling and instrumental heroics on-top.  Stanley himself eschewed such flashy fretwork, instead letting the very talented bluegrass machine known as the Clinch Mountain Boys provide the excitement.  While lately some of the most talented players in the genre such as Bela Fleck have explored more harmonically complex, progressive, alternative forms (which some traditionalists call  “space-grass’), the Clinch Mountain Boys keep it simple, singing bright and pure over mandolin, banjo, fiddle, guitar, and double-bass (that’s what those big stand-up bass things are called). Stanley played some very droney banjo but mostly genially presided like the last of the Bluegrass Patriarchs. He sang with a very thick Appalachian accent…how many people still have such a rich and distinctive lilt to their voice?  When he sang the opening bars of the rural classic “O Death”, the dark room drew silent, band and audience alike became still, transfixed, as his haunting tenor filled the chamber:

O Death

O Death

Won’t you spare me a livin’ for another year?

They don’t make ‘em like Ralph Stanley anymore.


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