Far from being another hackneyed tribute album, "Doctor's Orders: A Tribute to Ralph Stanley" is a robust, thoughtful compendium revealing the legendary mountain singer's influence over several generations of bluegrass singers.
The song selection is appealing as Don Rigsby presents a surprisingly diverse cross-section of songs. There is the sacred - Sinner Man, Traveling the Highway Home, and Walking Up This Hill on Decoration Day; the pitiful - The Water Lily and I Only Exist as well as the wistful - Home in the Mountains, Wild Geese Cry Again and Six More Miles. These songs have timeless qualities between their themes, melodies and lyrics.
Clinch Mountain Boys James Alan Shelton (guitar) and Steve Sparkman (banjo) appear, providing contemporary perspective to the music. The stellar Ron Stewart provides the fiddling while Barry Bales lays out the bass. That these four are each top-tier bluegrass talents hardly requires mentioning.
Charlie Sizemore provides additional Clinch Mountain connection, singing on a pair of songs including Tennessee Truck Driving Man, a song also featuring Clinch Mountain Boy alumnus Ricky Skaggs. Finally, Larry Sparks, who got his start as a Clinch Mountain Boy, joins in on I Only Exist. The good doctor himself appears vocally on two tracks, most significantly on The Daughter of Geronimo, while also providing the banjo for the set closing Traveling The Highway Home.
The sole original is from Larry Cordle and Rigsby, a song that rises above novelty. The Mountain Doctor lightheartedly includes several familiar Stanley tags, revealing the medicinal qualities of listening and living 'The Stanley Sound,' while advising "go see the mountain doctor anytime you got the blues."
"Doctor's Orders: A Tribute to Ralph Stanley" is powerfully executed bluegrass.