Bluegrass Hall of Honor member Ralph Stanley has a host of devoted fans who are singing stars in their own genres of expertise. Many of them quickly jumped on the bandwagon when this latest opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Stanley took place in the studio. Produced by Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale, Man Of Constant Sorrow brings together star-struck followers of the icon for a series of duets.
The CD kicks off with country star Josh Turner lending his incredible baritone with Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys on “We Shall Rise.” Another bluegrass legend, Del McCoury, sings with Ralph and his band on “Brand New Tennessee Waltz.” Robert Plant from the legendary Led Zeppelin recorded “Two Coats” with Ralph, while Elvis Costello joined Stanley on “Red Wicked Wine.” Country stars Dierks Bentley (“I Only Exist,” which Ralph’s wife Jimmie wrote before they were married), Lee Ann Womack and her daughter, Aubrie Sellars (“White Dove”), and bluegrass/country master Ricky Skaggs, (“We’ll Be Sweethearts In Heaven”) who was a Clinch Mountain Boy as a teenager, brought their talents to the sessions. “It was really great to see these two men get to work together again after all these years and record and see them interact and see the love they have for each other,” Lauderdale said of the Stanley/Skaggs session.
Lauderdale and Miller also had the privilege of recording “I Am The Man, Thomas” with Stanley, who Miller has admired since the late 1960s. “Ralph was a big deal to me from the minute I heard his voice,” Miller said. “He’s 87 years old, but he’s always sounded 87 years old. Ralph’s voice just kind of always cut to the heart.” Ronnie McCoury played on a handful of tracks, and Punch Brothers bassist Paul Kowert accompanied Stanley, Gillian Welch, and Dave Rawlings on “Pig In A Pen.” Old Crow Medicine Show re-recorded “Short Life Of Trouble” with Ralph. It was on the band’s first album. Nathan Stanley sang the classic “Rank Stranger” with his papaw (the two often sing it together on stage with the Clinch Mountain Boys).
Every song on the CD is a winner, but it’s hard to top the main man when Ralph delivers the heavy tear-evoking recitation of “Hills Of Home” that he wrote in memory of his brother Carter. Dr. Stanley wraps up the CD with the title-cut that had renewed popularity thanks to the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but it’s an old English ballad that Stanley first heard when his dad sang it around the house. What an incredible CD. Cross your fingers for a follow-up of more duets. (Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, P.O. Box 787, Lebanon, TN 37088, www.crackerbarrel.com.)BC