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RIP Dr Stanley

ralphstanley

Ralph Stanley died last week, and that’s an end to all the original men of Bluegrass, I suppose.

I know it doesn’t seem like it, but Bluegrass was strictly a Twentieth Century musical style. It borrowed heavily from traditional music, of course, but it was a highly formalized and particular form that started with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys (hence the name), particularly when Earl Scruggs joined them in 1945.

Stanley and his brother Carter had performed together since the late Forties, though Carter drank himself to death in the Sixties. Their sound was very heavily Appalachian. Ralph’s singing style was typical of the genre — a high-pitched, whining sort of sound called “high lonesome” and often compared to a ghost wailing through a forest. It’s eerie. And probably an acquired taste.

Listen to the chorus of The Fields Have Turned Brown to hear what I mean.

Stanley’s career had a sudden resurgence late in life when he did the soundtrack for the Coen Brothers’ film O Brother Where Art Thou. The album — particularly the song Man of Constant Sorrow — was a surprise hit.

As a personal aside, I hated that fucking film. It was the beginning of the end for me and the Coen Brothers. Films like Fargo poked fun of people but seemed to do it with affection, but O Brother was full of tone deafness and sneering contempt. But good on Ralph for ending his life on a high note (oh, pun, I suppose).

And thus a sad footnote to a strange week. Good weekend, everyone!

sock it to me

July 1, 2016 — 9:17 pm
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