Music News

Brother, Dear Brother

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Of course, Man of Constant Sorrow also contains a traditional version of the title cut, which plays a central role and receives a bluesy guitar workout in O Brother, Where Art Thou? Again the spirit of the elder Stanley raises its head; Carter's arrangement of the song is one of several versions heard in the film. "Carter and me both arranged 'Constant Sorrow,' and I've been singin' it myself for about the last 55 years," says Stanley. "But the first I heard of that song was when my father sung it. After that, Carter and me, we arranged it. It's done a little different on the soundtrack, more upbeat."

With good reason, then, the echo of Ralph Stanley's voice inhabits the song even in its updated version. For years it's been a staple of his shows; the lonesome tale of a drifter who says "goodbye to old Kihn-tucky" and longs only to meet his friends "on that other shore" seems to encapsulate many of Stanley's recurrent themes -- travel, survival, heartache and forgiveness. You can hear the resonance of those themes when he speaks lovingly of his brother:

"Carter was a great man in this music, he done a lot for it, he wrote a lot of good songs, and it's . . . well, it's just a pity that he couldn't've stayed around. He'd've enjoyed it."

Likely he would have. And if this latest brief moment in Stanley's long and accomplished career introduces his talents to another generation, so will many more people. As he put it recently in the title of an album of old-time hymns, Ralph Stanley's spent the better part of his time on Earth preaching the gospel, working in anticipation of the coming night. One could sure do worse.

The man of constant sorrow -- a lesson for us all -- finds reasons to push on.

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Eric Waggoner