Bluegrass mandolinist Don Rigsby salutes Ralph Stanley

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Don Rigsby
  • Randy Evans, Evans Photography
  • Don Rigsby
Kentucky mandolinist Don Rigsby fills the lengthy liner notes for his latest album, Doctor's Orders: A Tribute to Ralph Stanley (Rebel), with a detailed account of his first encounter with the bluegrass legend the album salutes. He saw Stanley perform live for the first time in 1974, which happened to be his sixth birthday, and if his memories are to be trusted, he was pretty ecstatic in anticipation of the concert. Rigsby's father was friendly with the great singer and guitarist Keith Whitley, who had recently joined the Clinch Mountain Boys: Whitley ended up taking the six-year-old Rigsby backstage to meet Stanley, where he was introduced as his biggest fan. Stanley asked him what his favorite song was, and Rigsby blurted out two, both of which Stanley and his band ended up playing that night.

Rigsby recorded both of them—"Little Maggie" and "The Hills of Home"—for his new album, which features Stanley making a couple of vocal cameos. The album opens with a Rigsby original called "The Mountain Doctor," another homage to Dr. Ralph, but the other 13 songs are bluegrass standards, country classics, and traditional material that have prominently featured in Stanley's vast oeuvre. The album was made with an all-star crew that includes guest appearances from the likes of Ricky Skaggs, Charlie Sizemore, and Larry Sparks. The performances are hard-charging and dynamic, marked by nonchalant virtuosity, excellent vocal harmonies, and a drum-tight ensemble sound. Rigsby makes a rare area appearance on Saturday at Evanston Legion Hall as part of the invaluable Bluegrass Legends Series, performing with his sharp working band Midnight Call: guitarist Clyde Mitchell, banjoist Elmer Burchett, fiddler Matt Hooper, bassist Bobby Davis, and the leader on mandolin and fiddle. Below you can check out his version of "Little Maggie."

Today's playlist:

Gigi Gryce Orch-Tette, Reminiscin' (Mercury, Japan)
David Tudor, John Cage: Music of Changes (Hat Art)
MJT+3, MJT+3 (Argo, Japan)
Kawaguchi Takahiro & Choi Joonyong, Suncheon Hyanggyo (Balloon & Needle)
Earle Brown, Abstract Sound Objects (Wergo)

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