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RIP Dr Stanley


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!


Comment from Ric Fan
Time: July 1, 2016, 10:41 pm

Fargo was a real turn off for me and I didnt like O Brother Where Art Thou, either. However, Fargo the television series, especially season one, is excellent.

Comment from Scott Jacobs
Time: July 1, 2016, 11:32 pm

I saw Ricky Skaggs last weekend at a casino in Oklahoma, and he played several of his songs, since the Stanleys kinda did help make him who he is today.

Comment from QuasiModo
Time: July 2, 2016, 12:12 am

I’ve never seen O Brother Where Art Thou because it has George Clooney in it…I dislike him on general principles…the only thing I saw him in that I liked was From Dusk Till Dawn. Fargo was pretty good.

Comment from Nina
Time: July 2, 2016, 4:08 am

This week started with a trip to the OR (that’s A&E to you Britons) and ended with an obscenely expensive home repair. I’ve had better weeks.

Comment from Mitchell
Time: July 2, 2016, 4:10 am

O Brother as film was utterly forgettable, but the soundtrack was amazing.

Comment from J.S.Bridges
Time: July 2, 2016, 5:55 am

I have to agree with Mitchell, here – by far, the most delightful part of O Brother was watching Georgie-Porgie Clueless getting his worthless, Leftist-moronic butt kicked all over the map, both physically and verbally, by virtually everyone, including his movie-wife and several small movie-daughters.

Some pretty outstanding music on that sound-track, though.

Fargo, OTOH, I rather enjoyed – more-than-slightly grisly, but still… – not solely but in large part due to Frances McDormand and William H. Macy, both of whom are (IMHO) eminently-watchable in almost anything – Macy, in particular (he made that lunkhead Jerry Lundegaard almost lovable in his hapless putz-iness), with some able help from Steve Buscemi.

Really kinda sad to see the last of the original-front-rank Bluegrass pass away, but the genre will live on…not as popular as it once was, but still has a pretty strong following. R.I.P. indeed, Dr. Ralph…you were a good ‘un, for sure…

Comment from Veeshir
Time: July 2, 2016, 2:40 pm

I can’t stand George Clooney, too much smug ignorance, but I do like that movie. I figured he was just playing himself.

Even as I pointed and laughed as they claimed it was based on the Odyssey.

Comment from OldFert
Time: July 2, 2016, 7:10 pm

I’ll upvote the music from OBWAT. I bought the CD and often found myself sitting out on the porch listening to it. For ethnic music it was pretty good (Euro-American). Always kinda liked some bluegrass and gospel, but on bluegrass never did like the high-pitched whiny singing. I had Pandora make a “bluegrass instrumental” channel for me and I like it a lot.
As far as the Coen brothers, the liner notes for the CD admitted they were looking to make a “hayseed” movie. In that they were pretty much successful. I did like the movie, overall.
Maggie’s Farm has some commentary on bluegrass and other country/western once in a while. Amazing how lots of the bluegrass and country is very similar to Scots-Irish music. But then, again, not so surprising since the origins are of pretty much the same stock.

Comment from OldFert
Time: July 2, 2016, 7:12 pm

And happy Independence Day Weekend, youse guys.

Comment from Uncle Al
Time: July 2, 2016, 9:26 pm

RIP Elie Wiesel (not a Dead Pool pick, alas)

Comment from Nordicsodbuster
Time: July 4, 2016, 12:42 am

Come on OBWAT is funnier than heck! The Coen bros are just St. Jewish Park, MN elitists along with the disgraceful senator al franken , it was a clean, funny movie [but for the constant swearing] and we all need to be able to laugh at ourselves, Lord knows there are plenty of Jewish [hayseed] type jokes as well as Christian, Polock, Norwegian, Swedish, Scottish, Chinese, African etc, etc,. We need to lighten up and laugh.

Bought it when the movie came out, love it. I think the guy that sang “Oh Death” is June Carter’s cousin

Comment from bikeboy
Time: July 5, 2016, 6:03 pm

I’ll have to differ on “Oh Brother.” I’ve always liked the movie. Clooney playing “Dapper Dan” is perfect. I like the matte-looking color. I like the plotline, based ever so loosely on The Odyssey. I liked ’em singin’ into the can. I like the stereotype southern-friend candidates for governor. Yeah, I love that movie, and don’t apologize for it. (Cloony is polar opposite from me politically, but I don’t make my entertainment choices based on politics. If you do… more power to ya!)

And the soundtrack is fine, too – I had much of it already on CDs from the various original artists.

Comment from ExpressoBold
Time: July 6, 2016, 6:38 pm

Dr. Ralph Stanley – O Death

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