At an age when most professional musicians are ready to back off both road and studio activity, acoustic legend Ralph Stanley has hit a remarkably productive streak and is showing no signs of settling
At an age when most professional musicians are ready to back off both road and studio activity, acoustic legend Ralph Stanley has hit a remarkably productive streak and is showing no signs of settling down. Stanley, 75, has released eight albums since 2000, and he maintains a busy touring schedule.
Yet another release -- an eponymous project for DMZ/Columbia -- comes June 1. The album is the pilot project of the DMZ/Columbia partnership, the former being a startup imprint of T-Bone Burnett and film producers Joel and Ethan Coen. Burnett and the Coen brothers successfully teamed up previously on the multiplatinum "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack.
Executive-produced by Burnett, Ralph Stanley forsakes Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys for such acoustic wizards as Norman Blake and Stuart Duncan. But it still effectively captures Stanley's stark, heartfelt tenor honed during thousands of live performances and some 185 albums.
When asked about his numerous releases during the past couple of years, Stanley says, "Well, yes, I think that is a lot of albums. But they seem to be buyin' 'em, so I just keep puttin' 'em out."
The new record is the first of six that Stanley will record for DMZ/Columbia, following a relationship with Rebel Records that lasted more than 35 years. This is also the first album that Burnett has produced for Stanley, with the exception of their pairing on the "O Brother" soundtrack. Accustomed to charting his own course in the studio, Stanley says Burnett was "fine to work with," adding, "he knows what he's a-doin'."
The album's material alternates among such uplifting gospel fare as "Lift Him Up, That's All" and the soaring "Great High Mountain" to lovelorn heartache in "Girl From the Greenbriar Shore" and "Look On and Cry" to the Celtic tale of adultery and murder "Little Mathie Grove."
Stanley's voice remains a note-bending marvel, instantly recognizable and often goosebump-inducing, particularly on such a capella readings as "Twelve Gates to the City" and "I'll Remember You Love in My Prayers." Stanley says, "Well, I should have [my own style] by now. I guess there ain't no other sound like it, good or bad. I can do things now with my voice that I couldn't before."
As previously reported, Stanley will be among the featured performers on this summer's high-profile Down From the Mountain tour, which begins in June 25 in Louisville, Ky.
Even with such a busy schedule and new releases planned, Stanley admits he remains enamored of performing. "I like to fish, but I'd rather do this."
Excerpted from the May 25, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
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