I confess that while I am familiar with The Stanley Brothers and Dr. Ralph Stanley’s contributions to music, I am ignorant of their progeny. Nathan Stanley, grandson of Ralph, has carved out a durable niche for himself in the music world based on talent alone without ever having trade in on his family history. It affords him the latitude, in my opinion, to reference them as he does during his latest single “Sandy Ridge Wind”. The single is available on his pending release Nathan Stanley Live!, an in-concert recording featuring four new studio cuts as a complement to the recording. The song and, especially, its accompanying promotional video make great hay from referencing Stanley’s history.
It isn’t any sort of novelty tune, however, or otherwise lightweight. Strip away the familial references from “Sandy Ridge Wind” and you still have a substantive song about staying true to yourself. It’s a timeless theme that Stanley invests with equal parts gravitas and musicality. The style of the track is a far cry from the sort of music his grandfather wrote and recorded, much more classic country than anything else, but it nonetheless strikes the same resonant chords.
The presence of pedal steel makes a big difference. Sometimes I hear songs that tack on pedal steel as a sort of perfunctory nod to the cliché elements of the genre. It becomes meaningless tinsel. Other tracks, however, such as this one incorporates the instrument into the arrangement and it is an integral part of the overall composition. The pedal steel in “Sandy Ridge Wind” acts, to my ears, as a de facto second vocalist answering Stanley’s voice with an eloquence all its own.
“Sandy Ridge Wind” doesn’t overstay its welcome either. After ten album releases and years of live performances, Stanley has honed his craft to the point that anything smacking of the extraneous has vanished. Everything has a purpose. He even maintains firm control over his vocals, allowing the music the necessary space to work its magic, and the balance between the track’s competing elements never wavers. Everything is exquisitely balanced.
There’s no self-indulgence. He keeps an even pace throughout the song and the musical collaborators he’s chosen to accompany him do more than merely hit their marks. Instead, they share the same musical reference points and their affinity for the material is audible from the first note onward. The production adopts the same even-handed treatment and results in a full, robust recording that checks off all the right boxes for me.
It’s another triumph for Nathan Stanley. The images in the song’s promotional video of the Stanley family grave and other historical pictures only reinforce the careful tailoring of the track. Kerry Belcher penned this gem especially for Stanley, but you’d never know it. It sounds like it comes straight from Stanley’s heart and soul and he performs the track with a sense of stakes that communicates its deep meaning for him. It’s an outstanding studio track that serves notice Nathan Stanley is far from finished.