Nathan Stanley definitely knows a little about the word legacy. The entertainer is the grandson of Dr. Ralph Stanley, who helped define the genre of bluegrass music via his work as a solo artist, as well as with his brother Carter. He has played in the Clinch Mountain Boys since the age of 10. So titling his latest album The Legacy Continues definitely makes sense.
One of the most personal songs on the disc is "Papaw, I Love You," inspired by his legendary grandfather. "That's probably one of my favorite songs on the project. It's a very personal song to me. My grandfather has been the only father figure that I have ever known in my life. He raised me from a pup, as the old-timers would say. So being with him since I was a baby, and growing up around him, I wanted to write a song to let the fans and the music world know how much I love and respect this man, and how much he means to me."
Stanley told Billboard that the song has been making an impact with many listeners -- even if their last name isn't Stanley. "This song not only hits home in my family, but anybody who hears it who had or has a special relationship with their grandparents, it touches them. They'll come up to me in tears because of those people. It's a special song, and I think it's one that will last my entire career. I remember writing the song. I was in Pigeon Forge, and the words came on. I was crying while writing it. It was so personal, and it touches my heart."
Of course, Dr. Ralph Stanley is known as one of bluegrass music's most stoic figures, thanks to songs like "O' Death" and "Man of Constant Sorrow." But is there a side to the Grand Ole Opry star the public might not be aware of? "He is a very shy and humble man," admitted Nathan. "Throughout his entire career, he has never participated in a lot of talking on stage. He just wants to keep the focus on his singing. But when he speaks, you'd better listen, because it will be important." Then, a smile crosses his face. "However, a lot of people don't know that he is a great prankster. He does it in a sneaky way, and I guess I've inherited that from him. He will pull some good ones on the guys on the road. He has a lot of fun with that." His grandfather appears on a pair of the album's cuts: "Rank Stranger" and "Where Could I Go But to the Lord."
Another special guest appears on the standard "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone": Brad Paisley. No stranger to the world of collaborations in his young career, Stanley said he loves partnering up with other artists. "I think that's one of my favorite things to do. Country, bluegrass and gospel music all are just one big family -- people are always getting together and singing together, whether in concert or recordings. Each artist respects the other and their talent. I think it adds something special to my projects. I think it makes people curious -- 'Hmm…Nathan Stanley and Brad Paisley, we didn't see that coming.' Then maybe some of his fans who have never taken on to bluegrass will listen to it because he's on it, and that helps me -- and hopefully, it helps bluegrass in general, because he's such a superstar and an all-around wonderful guy."
Meeting Paisley as a child remains one of Stanley's most vivid memories. "I was really young, and we were backstage at the Ryman in Nashville. I sat on his lap, and we talked for about 45 minutes about fishing and so many other things. I was just star-struck. I like what he stands for too."
One of the album's more somber moments is "Casualty of War." "It's about a son who is at war, and he calls his mother and says, 'Mom, I'm coming home in a few weeks, and she's all excited.' A few days later, a knock comes on her door, and it's two Army officers in uniform with their heads bowed low and hats in hand who have come to tell her he was killed in war today. It is one of those songs that will touch you. I'm so proud of our military and anyone who serves in our Armed Forces. We don't know what they go through to make this country the great nation it is -- and for our freedom."