Ralph Stanley and his music don’t change and that’s a good thing. The bluegrass icon continues to craft earnest, spiritual, moving traditional songs well into life as an octogenarian.
The laidback legend continues to impress at an age, 84, when most are at worst, retired and at best, touring in a limited capacity.
“But that’s not me,” Stanley said during a telephone interview from his Dickenson County, Virginia home. “I still have something to contribute. I still want to record music.”
That’s why Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys, who will perform Saturday at the Sellersville Theater, recorded their latest album, ‘A Mother’s Prayer.’ The disc is full of passionate and sincere songs. That describes such traditional selections as ‘Come All Ye Tenderhearted,’ ‘Prince of Peace’ or the Stanley penned tunes, ‘He Suffered For My Reward’ and ‘What Kind of Man.’
“I think I’m pretty consistent with the message I send,” Stanley said. “There’s a certain way I do things. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this album but it just came together. I think I have some touching stuff on the record. I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging but I think I’ve done a good job.”
Stanley certainly has the right to toot his horn. He’s been on the bluegrass circuit since he and his brother Carter started performing together in 1946. Stanley developed his own distinctive style of singing and banjo playing.
“I just do what works for me,” Stanley said. “I just want to play music.”
Stanley’s career received a boost in 2000 courtesy of the ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ soundtrack, which features his version of the Appalachian dirge ‘O Death.’ That recording earned Stanley the 2002 Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.
“That was such a nice honor,” Stanley said. “That was a wonderful thing.”
The soundtrack didn’t’ just yield hardware. Stanley witnessed his audience grow considerably. “It’s a nice thing,” Stanley said. ”Who would ever guess that would happen to a bluegrass musician? But I’m so thankful for it. I love to perform.”
Stanley plays about 75 to 80 shows a year. “It’s still a wonderful thing to me,” Stanley said. “I love to get out and do what I enjoy most. Not many people can say that they’re still doing what they love at this age.”