Ralph Stanley featured in another period film project

The Good Doctor of Bluegrass, Ralph Stanley, seems set to enjoy another pop culture boost with his involvement in the soundtrack for a second major motion picture.

His primitive, plaintive rendition of Oh Death was an pivotal plot point in 2000’s O Brother, Where Art Thou, whose soundtrack was both a surprise sales juggernaut, and an award magnet.

Now, Stanley’s voice will be featured in another period piece, John Hillcoat’s upcoming moonshiner film, Lawless. The historical drama, set for an August 29 release, is the tale of a bootlegging family in Franklin County, VA during the Prohibition era. The screenplay is based on a true story, told in the book The Wettest County In The World by Matt Bondurant, which shared his family’s history selling untaxed whiskey.

Franklin County, located just south of my home in Roanoke, has a long history in the bootleg business. You can still find natives who affirm with pride that they “don’t drink government liquor.” The booming trade there drew the attention of the ATF when compiled sales statistics in the late 1920s showed that residents of Franklin County had purchased more sugar than any other area in the country. Government agents were dispatched, and high speed chases through the hills and valleys became a regular occurrence, with the rich payoff for successful shine entrepreneurs luring headstrong young men, just as does the modern-day drug trade, often with the same violent results.

Original songs for Lawless (great title!) were composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who have collaborated frequently with Hillcoat. Their previous music has been more in the dark, brooding indie-rock style, but the inclusion of both Ralph Stanley and Emmylou Harris suggests that they may be mining the old time/acoustic strain that has been so successful for producer T. Bone Burnett in O Brother and other projects.

We couldn’t find any audio samples from the soundtrack just yet, but you can expect them to show up closer to the release date.

Here’s a look at the trailer.


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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.