Bluegrass Legend Dr. Ralph Stanley Teams With Cracker Barrel for 'Man of Constant Sorrow'

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Ralph Stanley

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store has just partnered up with Bluegrass legend Dr. Ralph Stanley for the new collection Man of Constant Sorrow: Ralph Stanley & Friends, and the singer told Billboard that he's very humbled to be working with the Lebanon, Tenn.-based restaurant chain.

"I like Cracker Barrel," Stanley said. "I'm honored to be working with them and honored that they chose to put out a record with me. I think it's a great combination with their great old country cooking and my old-time mountain music. It works perfect, because a lot of our fans visit Cracker Barrel and eat there. We're both old-timey, so it just works together really well."

The collection features collaborations with a very diverse mix of artists -- ranging from Robert Plant to Dierks Bentley. Nathan Stanley, who worked with his grandfather very closely on the set, said the response from his fellow artists was nothing short of outstanding.

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"It was very easy getting people to participate on this CD because of everybody loving my papaw's music," Nathan said. "What ended up being so great about this project is that we had very little time to get it all together. So a lot of the credit goes to Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller -- who produced the record -- in getting all the artists together, making everything work as far as scheduling goes, and also Ken Levitan -- our manager -- and everybody at Vector Management. They just did a wonderful job at putting everything together. Of course, we had a wish list of who we'd like to have on the album. If we could have had another two months to work on it, we might could have had another album completed with all the artists. We were never turned down once."

One pairing that was of special meaning to Stanley was "Sweethearts in Heaven," which allowed the singer to partner up once again with Ricky Skaggs, who played in the Clinch Mountain Boys as a teenager -- alongside of Keith Whitley.

"I enjoyed talking with him, and loved being in the studio with him," Stanley reflected. "He sings real good with me." When asked about memories of having the future superstars in his band, Stanley said "Lord have mercy, that's been so long. I tried to teach them what I knew, and had them in the band. They went ahead and did well."

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He recalled how Skaggs and Whitley came to his attention. "I was on the way to perform at a show in Kentucky and had a flat on the camper. We were late getting there, so the owner of the venue realized we were going to be late, so he asked these two young boys -- who were Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley -- if they would get up and sing a few songs to hold the crowd over. When I walked in, Ricky and Keith had been doing our songs, and they sounded like us. I pulled up a chair and started listening to them. I remember it like it were yesterday."

The album was produced by Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale and the latter said that working with Stanley is always a treat. "I became a fan of Ralph's when I was a teenager and just starting out. "Rank Stranger" was the first song of his that I ever heard on record. It just changed my life. All of these years later, I remember exactly where I was when I heard it. He had such a big influence on me, and years later, I recorded a couple of albums with him and it just means the world to me to be part of something that he is doing."

At least on paper, the combination of Elvis Costello and Ralph Stanley on "Red Wicked Wine" might take some by surprise. But, Lauderdale insists that Costello dug deep for the obscure track." A few years ago, I was on the road singing harmony with Elvis Costello on the road. He said he wanted to try this song called 'Wicked Red Wine' that Ralph used to do. So, we worked it up and did it that night. Elvis likes to dig and find obscure songs like that, and he's totally about the music. I was so pleased that he found that one, and recommended that they record it together."

The album comes to a close with Stanley shining in the solo spotlight with one of the songs that has become a Stanley signature -- "Man of Constant Sorrow." What goes through his mind when he hears it? "That's just an old song that I heard back when I was young. I liked it, liked the words, and liked the melody. I put what I knew on it, and tried to make the song to where it suited me. I think it's one of our greatest. I remember hearing my father singing it around the house." Fans can expect the Grand Ole Opry star to continue to perform the song for the foreseeable future. Stanley had talked of retirement a few years ago, but now he's singing a different tune. "I'm going to continue to travel as long as the Good Lord continues to allow me to do it."

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