Ralph Stanley is one of the last great wisdom keepers of a vanishing culture. His music reflects traditions that descended from the Scottish, Irish and Welsh immigrants who settled into Appalachia and the Ozarks as European settlers began to expand their reach beyond the original colonies.
The extent to which his music resonated through a contemporary audience in Tucson, Arizona last week, well into the 21st century, may reflect, in at least a tiny measure, the continuation of that expansion all the way to California. But the people, the culture and the music changed across all that time and geography (see "country" vs "western") and a lot of those old-time sounds got left behind with the good china in the wake of the wagon trains.
Except as preserved by the likes of The Stanley Brothers, the Carter Family, the Louvin Brothers and Bill Monroe and their fans, those sounds had just about died out until the Coen brothers brought T Bone Burnett on board to score O Brother Where Art Thou. Can it be said of a revival that "The rest is history?"
Fans of Burnett's flair for choosing precisely what music underscores a given script should be enjoying the new True Detective series on HBO. And we all should be grateful that Burnett breathed life into Stanley's high lonesome tenor for a couple more generations.