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Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times Hardcover – October 15, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Stanley's life spans the history of recorded bluegrass and country music, but his high, lonesome voice encompasses human suffering throughout time. Born in 1927, Stanley and his brother and first singing partner, Carter, grew up in the mountains of southwestern Virginia where Stanley learned old-time music in a Primitive Baptist church and from his mother, who picked the banjo clawhammer style. As a young man he often doubted his future as a musician, farming and working briefly in a sawmill, before committing himself to the music business. He stuck with it after Carter's alcohol-accelerated death in 1966 even though his career did not prove lucrative until very late in life when he was featured on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. He won the 2001 Grammy for best male country vocal performance, besting the likes of young commercial country star Tim McGraw, of whom Stanley writes, [W]ouldn't know a real country song if it kicked him in the ass. Stanley's plainspoken narrative is told in a rural diction as though he were sitting in the front seat of an old Ford headed down the mountain for his next show. His story is a comprehensive and endearing cornucopia of authentic mountain music, place, family, friends, rivals, faith, love, life, death and the road. (Oct.)
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"A delightful, outspoken surprise... An often tart yet affecting music memoir."
-Kirkus (starred review)
"After all these years [Stanley's] tongue is still sharp."
-Wall Street Journal
"[Man of Constant Sorrow] is a lot like the man himself: warm, folksy, down to earth, plainspoken, a little blunt and prickly at times."
-New York Times
"No less than the oral history of a quintessentially American music scene."
"This late-in-life memoir is a classic- remarkably frank, detailed, revealing, and from time to time it rises to the level of plainspoken poetry. The master of old time singing and clawhammer banjo pulls no punches as he recalls his rural Virginia mountain boyhood, the Stanleys' slow rise to success, his career restart after his alcoholic brother's death in 1966, and musicians he played with, from Bill Monroe to Keith Whitley and even Bob Dylan. He settles a few scores, shares his inner thoughts on matters social, political and spiritual, and tells his tale in a flowing, engaging style that's no doubt also a credit to Virginia journalist Dean."
-American Songwriter (five stars)
"In the prologue to Man of Constant Sorrow Ralph Stanley writes: 'I've always done my best to honor what God gave me. I've never tried to put any airs on it. I sing it the way I feel it, just the way it comes out.' With music writer Eddie Dean, he relates his life in the same speaking voice - honestly and with extraordinary detail."
"As fascinating as Stanley's personal revelations are, this book's greatest value lies in his documentary-like descriptions of the hardships rural musicians faced in the 1940s and '50s-crowded cars, band rivalries, long and dangerous roads and hand-to-mouth living."
"Man of Constant Sorrow brims with Stanley's homespun wit as he recalls vivid tales of the church and sawmills of his youth, which served as the wellsprings for the Stanley brothers' halting, soulful music; their days with King Records, when they were label-mates with soul legend James Brown; and the personal struggles Stanley faced after his brother's alcohol-related death."
"With music journalist Dean's help, Stanley has put his speech on paper. Every word about his hardscrabble upbringing, how Carter and he built livings in music, his perseverance after Carter's untimely death in 1966, the many personalities he has worked with and admired, and much more, is vibrant with it. Perhaps in the future this lovely book will occupy a position in American autobiography like that of Huckleberry Finn among American novels, as the great vernacular example of its kind."
-Booklist (starred review)
"Man of Constant Sorrow is an invaluable book...You've never heard anything like this story, but if you care anything about great American voices, at the microphone or on the page, you won't miss it."
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Top Customer Reviews
region of the South. And on top of that, even as a child, people said he was the boy with the 100 year old voice.
In his own words, with good shaping and organizing by Eddie Dean, he tells of his early life, his start in the music
business and many details of all the miles traveled and the people along the way. While he repeatedly says he doesn't like
to talk much, he talks plenty in this book, and in some ways I wish it could have been longer, since there's a lot to
tell in a life as long and far reaching as his has been.
One thing that makes it especially interesting is a look into Ralph's ways as a leader, as a family man, and as a man
who's sometimes called on to make moral judgements. Not everything he says or thinks fits into neat categories, and so
there are surprises and plenty of things to make you think.
If you're a fan of his music as I have been, this book provides a great complement to the songs and sounds. If you're not,
this book will provide a great entry point.
The fact that Ralph sold out so completely is a tragedy greater than the death of Carter or his mother. At least they went to their graves with their beliefs intact. Ralph deserves all the success - financial and otherwise that he's recieved over the last few years. But I can't help thinking how lucky we are that it didn't come earlier, else many of the recorded jewels he speaks about in this book wouldn't have happened. I miss him.
His philosophy, expressions, figures of speech, and music all blend together with his mother's care, the mountains, valleys, creeks, mine workers and country churches of WVA to give the reader an assurance of Dr. Ralph Stanley's unwavering faith, talent of a unique master musician, and desire to be a friend of all good men. The book is bold, interesting, fresh, and a dadburned good read!