Ralph Stanley sings like he's met the devil and he's even now waiting in the next room. The craggy, soaring glory of his voice can be as penetrating as a hot poker, as anyone who heard his show-stopping version of "O Death" in O Brother can testify. The film raised Stanley's profile sufficiently to land him a major-label deal, which, as a bluegrass pioneer, living legend, and certified icon, he richly deserved but didn't really need to enhance his rep. As a banjo player and singer, Stanley has never veered dramatically from the high lonesome sound he and his brother Carter introduced to bluegrass in the late '40s. Carter was lead vocalist and chief songwriter of the Stanley Brothers, but after his untimely death in 1966, Ralph kept their sound alive. Earlier this year Time Life released a three-disc set, The Stanley Brothers: The Definitive Collection (1947-1966), which is just that, packed with dozens of nuggets that the brothers turned into Clinch Mountain soul. A fitting companion piece is TL's Early Classics: The King Recordings, a compilation of the first material Ralph recorded in the three years after Carter died. All of which help put the living artifact into perspective when Ralph brings his Boys and timeless howl to town. With the Get Up Johns.
Sun., Nov. 18, 7:30 p.m., 2007