Patuxent CD-340 Donna & Roni Stoneman - The Legend Continues
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The Legend Continues
It will soon be a century since Ernest Van Stoneman first entered a studio to cut some of the first commercial country music ever recorded for release on phonograph discs. In doing so, he not only launched a music career for himself, but also started a family tradition that persists to this day. By 1926, his wife, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and soon a pair of cousins were assisting him in making recorded music. In 1934, his oldest son was there, too. From then onward future Stoneman children were picking and singing in studios, on stages, before television cameras, and even in motion pictures. While “Pop,” as he came to be called for obvious reasons, passed on in 1968, for his children, now reduced to two, the picking and singing of bluegrass music persists. Patuxent Records has come out with a third compact disc with brand new recordings documenting the music of this remarkable family.
Donna Stoneman, styled the “first lady of the mandolin” and younger sister Veronica (or Roni), the first girl to pick a bluegrass banjo on record, are still at it and in remarkably fine form. They also assembled some quality support musicians for this effort. Bass man Stu Geisbert has worked on their previous Patuxent recordings as well as on Roni’s Bummin’ Around CD. Jeremy Stephens played guitar on their Patsy, Donna & Roni album from 2009 and is back for this one along with his wife, Corrina Rose Logston, on fiddle. As co-leaders of the band High Fidelity, they have one of the best traditional bluegrass bands around. Johnny Bellar who worked with the Stonemans for several years and was a long time musician at Opryland supplies Dobro on “Amazing Grace.” Tom Mindte of Patuxent provides vocal help when a male voice is needed. Casey Driscoll and Eddie Pennington supply extra fiddle and guitar respectively.
The songs on The Legend Continues with two possible exceptions, go back at least a half-century. Two songs come from their father’s repertoire. “May I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight, Mister” tells the sad story of a man whose wife has run off with another man and he has become a wandering vagabond as a result of his in vain search for them. It was apparently collected as a folksong in Texas in 1916 and recorded by Charlie Poole and Ernest Stoneman in the mid-1920s. “Hallelujah Side” was composed by sacred song writers Johnson Oatman and J. Howard Entwhistle in 1898. Pop had the first country recording of it in 1926.
The lyrics for “Amazing Grace” by reformed slave trader John Newton date to 1789 and the commonly used tune “New Britain” to 1844, but the Stonemans adapt it to a tune that goes back at least to 1925. “Bluegrass Breakdown” was composed and recorded by Bill Monroe (with possible assistance from Earl Scruggs) in 1947. Roni, Donna, and Corrina do a bang-up job with what has become a standard bluegrass instrumental. “Rock-a-Bye Boogie” was originally the flip-side of the Davis Sisters famous 1953 hit of “I Forgot More than You’ll Ever Know.” Donna has been singing it almost as long as tapes of the Don Owens Show contain her own first version from the 1950s.
Roni has a love for songs from the 1960s and shines on two of them. Billy Edd Wheeler’s composition “Jackson” went on to become a pop hit for Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood and an even bigger country classic for Johnny Cash and June Carter. Roni shines on it here with timely vocal assists from Tom Mindte. “Sweet Thang” was the late Nat Stuckey’s biggest hit with Roni and Tom giving it a fine treatment while Roni’s vocal brings back memories of skits “as Ida Lee Nagger” from her Hee Haw days. Roni also handles the vocals on her revival of the 1970 Johnny Cash’s hit song “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”
“Classical Vibrations” is one of Donna’s complex originals which she has been doing for a long time. “He Was There All the Time” has become a gentle gospel favorite since 1975 that Donna has been doing in churches for many years; it has previously appeared on disc by Wanda Jackson, Barbara Fairchild, the Gaithers, and original composer the late Garry Paxton. In all, the ten numbers reflect the many musical sides of a remarkable family that like their previous recordings exemplify great listening.
Ivan M. Tribe
Author of The Stonemans: An Appalachian Family
and the Music that Shaped their Lives (1993)