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Traveling the High Way Home

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Traveling the High Way Home

Ralph Stanley and the World of Traditional Bluegrass Music

Author:  John Wright

This is not a formal biography of Ralph Stanley--"America's finest traditional singer," according to country music historian Bill C. Malone. That's too bad, because Wright may be the best writer, technically, writing about country music; we need vernacular music biographies and histories by such as he rather than by the press agents manqu{‚}e and stilted scholars who usually write them. But then, Wright renders the set of depositions (which is what this is instead of biography) from Stanley, fellow bluegrass musicians, and other Stanley associates into a reading experience far smoother than most examples of oral history. As the subtitle suggests, the big subject here is not the man Ralph Stanley or his career (though we learn much about the latter; as for the former, Stanley is a model of the famous deep reserve of the mountaineer about matters deemed personal); it is the culture that gave rise to Stanley's particular artistry, which Wright characterizes as "impersonal" and "classical, not romantic" and which Stanley himself says is "the old-time style of what they call bluegrass." Stanley is an instinctive archaist, Wright argues, as unique and important in his musical domain as Sinatra in his or Caruso in his. This book begins to give the man's measure. Ray Olson