Doctor’s Orders

Don Rigsby

Rebel, 2013

REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones


There have been several bluegrass artists who have done work that pays tribute to one of the greatest forces in bluegrass music: Ralph Stanley. Several years ago, Doobie Shea Records owner Tim Austin produced two substantial tribute albums, The Stanley Tradition and The Stanley Gospel Tradition. A bevy of artists have covered individual tracks with the intent of memorializing the Stanley sound, and still more have been able to team up with Ralph for duet tunes.  What makes all of these tributes more amazing is that Ralph Stanley is not a dead man. He is alive, in his mid-eighties at this writing, and still producing a steady stream of music and live shows fronting his own band. So it is incredible that so many have lined up to honor him while he is still with us; it is possibly a foreshadowing of things to come when he does pass into the great beyond. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But here we are in 2013, and another bluegrass artist with his own substantial résumé has put forth another Stanley tribute album. This time it is Don Rigsby, who for Doctor’s Orders forsook his usual recording and touring band Midnight Call to assemble a crack team of bluegrass pros and Stanley Clinch Mountain Boys alumni as a backing group.  The core of this ensemble is Stanley’s phenomenal crosspicking lead guitarist, James Alan Shelton, Stanley banjoist Steve Sparkman, The Boxcars’ Ron Stewart, and Alison Krauss and Union Station bassist Barry Bales.  As if that weren’t enough, alumnus Ricky Skaggs, Larry Sparks, and Charlie Sizemore chime in to help on some vocals. Even the honoree, Ralph Stanley himself, participates.  The result is a solid, timeless collection of Stanley favorites and one original, “The Mountain Doctor.”

Rigsby hews close to the most popular standards in the Stanley catalog, but not so close as to be predictable.  In fact, of the tunes that I would have expected to be on this disc, only “Little Maggie” and “Traveling The Highway Home” made it.  Nevertheless, tunes like “Home In The Mountains” and “Brand New Tennessee Waltz” are pure Stanley brothers vintage.  The haunting tune/lyric combinations of “Walking Up This Hill On Decoration Day” and Tom T. Hall’s mesmerizingly sad “Water Lily” will stick with you even though the depressing subject matter is such that it will drive you crazy.  But they are right in step with the Stanley tradition: part depressing these-are-the-facts-of-life songs, part front porch feel-good tunes and spirituals.

Ultimately, the presence of Stanley himself on this tribute seals the deal, but Rigsby’s use of past and present Stanley band members gives this disc a real air of authenticity.  Doctor’s Orders is just what the doctor ordered for a tribute to the career of a man still living.

Rating: B+

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