RECORDINGS : Quick Spins

RECORDINGS : Quick Spins

Ralph Stanley roams in Carter Country on his latest CD.
Ralph Stanley roams in Carter Country on his latest CD. (Morris Public Relations)
Wednesday, May 31, 2006



Ralph Stanley

"It takes a worried man to sing a worried song," Ralph Stanley moans in "Worried Man Blues," the lament of a man who is shackled, tried and thrown in prison. If that line were strictly true, someone should keep an eye on Stanley, who at age 79 takes a clutch of Carter Family songs -- many of them about loneliness, incarceration, orphaned children and death -- and sings the heck out of them.

The connection between Stanley and the Carters is as deep as their Appalachian roots. Both are associated with Bristol, the Tennessee-Virginia border town where the Carters first recorded and, years later, Stanley and his late brother Carter performed on the radio. The families knew each other and each carried on the mountain music tradition, the Carters as the font from which much of country music has flowed and the Stanleys as a seminal force in bluegrass.

Stanley mostly avoids the Carters' best-known numbers ("Will the Circle Be Unbroken," "Wildwood Flower"), opting instead for lesser-known songs, including the gospel numbers "Little Moses," "Keep on the Firing Line" and "God Gave Noah the Rainbow Sign." Indeed, though Stanley, in his stark, gripping tenor, plumbs the depths of despair on the album, he also sings of transcendence. Even the verse in "Worried Man Blues" resolves with the line "I'm worried now, but I won't be worried long."

Sometimes you have to feel bad to feel better, and "A Distant Land to Roam" is a catalogue of miseries and a balm all at once.

DOWNLOAD THESE : "Worried Man Blues," "Motherless Children"

-- Daniel Durchholz

Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys are scheduled to perform June 24 at the Birchmere.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company