Ralph Stanley Ralph Stanley

I can't think of too many more perfect recent moments than when Ralph Stanley sang "O Death" at the Grammys this year. In a room full of show biz weasels, with the prospect of the event being a target for some lunatic still undoubtedly in the back of their minds, Stanley's plainspoken reminder that the cold hands will one day claim all Americans - even them - was simultaneously chilling and euphoric. It was a grounding moment that America needed more than any flag waving could accomplish, and with this new album, Stanley's sure but shaky voice continues to be a rock that anyone can lean on. The 70-plus bluegrass legend has a new audience via O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and this record won't disappoint anyone who craved more of him on that soundtrack. Lovingly overseen by T-Bone Burnett, the song selection is impeccable, and the production uncluttered and bright. Most of the songs are traditionals like "Henry Lee" and "Girl From The Greenbriar Shore," and Stanley's performance comes across more rough-hewn, like Dock Boggs, than the streamlined bluegrass he perfected with his brother Carter in the '40s and '50s, and never less than inspiring. A remarkable record, and the perfect introduction to Ralph Stanley's long and brilliant career. (Columbia)