Putting the soul in bluegrass and the country in blues
PREVIEW Imagine an entry called "Hillbilly Music" on the Web site "Stuff White People Like." The lexicon of that sage barometer of upper middle-class culture might render something like, "Old-timey string band music, especially when performed by specimens plucked from unsophisticated rural communities; appeals to white people's yearning for authenticity with the promise of a true white folkloric inheritance." Well, forget all that. It's true that one of the most transparent examples of institutionalized segregation exists quite happily in the "traditional" aisle of your local record store (if you still have one) where soul and blues mean black; country and folk, white. Needless to say, our heritage of "string bands, songsters, and hoedowns," to quote a Rounder release of music by black Appalachian performers, is a glorious amalgam of Celtic, English, French, African, and Native American cures for hard labor, heartbreak, and hard times. Luckily, the Coen Brothers and their team knew that when they looked to the legendary bluegrass artist Ralph Stanley to provide the weight and pathos at the core of O Brother Where Art Thou (2000) with his startling a capella rendition of "O Death." Sure enough, "O Death" has shown up in both Anglo and African American traditions, folklorists say. And at the tender age of 81, Stanley still delivers a timeless performance that puts the soul in bluegrass and the country in the blues.
RALPH STANLEY AND THE CLINCH MOUNTAIN BOYS Fri/2, 8 p.m., $49.50. Also Sat/3. Freight and Salvage Coffee House, 1111 Addison, Berk. (510) 548-1761, www.freightandsalvage.org