For two years in a row now, we’ve managed, quite unintentionally, to schedule our final production weekend for the May-June issue in synchronicity with the final two rounds of The Masters. Some of you may be aware of my occasionally obsessive fascination with that sport in which folks try to hit a little white ball into a little round hole, so you can probably surmise that it brings me no small amount of joy to be able to follow the deciding holes of golf’s greatest tournament as we make the usual mad rush toward deadline (which, happily, seemed much less mad this time; no trips to the hospital, anyhow).
Last year at this same time, we watched the barely-out-of-his-teens phenom Tiger Woods deliver the stuff of legends at Augusta National, while we finished up an issue that included young band the Old 97′s on the cover and planned a subsequent issue with even younger band Whiskeytown on the cover. (Last night, coincidentally, we watched those two bands deliver a much-appreciated youthful kick to the long-running PBS program Austin City Limits.)
Now it’s twilight on Sunday, and while Mark O’Meara eventually came away with this year’s green jacket, the big story today was clearly Jack Nicklaus. Knocking in birdies right and left on the front nine, the Golden Bear gave the final-round favorites a run for their (considerable) money. And though the gap was ultimately a little too large to close over the last few holes, Nicklaus’ performance nevertheless proved that being 58 doesn’t make you too damn old for anything.
Thus, there seems a certain symmetry in our selection of Ralph Stanley as the cover boy for this issue. Though it has, since Vol. 1 No. 1, been a priority for us to give older artists the due they rarely get from much of the music world these days, Stanley’s new double-disc set hardly needs any special consideration for senior citizens. From the moment the opening duet with Hal Ketchum on “How Mountain Girls Can Love” leapt out of the CD player shortly after the advance copy arrived a few weeks ago, Clinch Mountain Country had me captivated, and kept me contented for countless repeated listenings.
At 71, Stanley not only has earned the kind of generation-spanning stature and respect that allows him to bring everyone from Bob Dylan to BR5-49 into the studio for such a project, he also took care to make this album a true joy to hear, not just a star-studded affair whose whole is less than the sum of its marquee value (as such undertakings often are).
In short, Ralph still very much belongs here. Just as Jack still belongs at Augusta.