The material here includes a generous supply of numbers from their father, Ernest (Pop) Stoneman, who possessed a big bag of songs, augmented by some from country tradition and a few originals by Donna and Roni. Patsy sings lead vocals and plays autoharp on songs that once featured Pop. "The Raging Sea, How It Roared" (Child 289) is of British origin and was first recorded by Pop in August 1925 as "The Sailor Song" and in better-known versions for Victor in 1928. Pop also recorded "Bury Me Beneath the Willow" and "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down" in the 1920s. "Watchman Ring the Bell" was the last song Pop recorded for Edison on November 22, 1928 as an instrumental, but it remained unreleased until 1996 on County 3510; Roni leads on this one. "On the Banks of the Wabash Far Away" was Paul Dreiser's 1899 tribute to his home state of Indiana which Pop recorded with the Stoneman Family in 1963. "Rubber Dolly" or "Back Up and Push" is a traditional fiddle tune that makes a nice instrumental here featuring Donna, Roni and fiddler Nate Grower. Through technological magic, " Pop Stoneman sings an intro on William Golden's 1914 hymn, "Were the Soul of Man Never Dies" followed by the others taking over to complete the song.
Songs from newer country tradition include Patsy's lead on Lulubelle and Scotty's "Have I Told You Lately that I Love You" from the 1940s. Johnny Russell had a country hit in 1972 with "Catfish John" and Mac Wiseman recorded it into a bluegrass favorite soon afterward; Roni sings lead on it here. Scotty Stoneman and Buzz Busby composed "Going Home" and Scotty sang it on the first Stoneman Starday album. Roni sings lead on the latter two.
Roni and Donna Stoneman each contributed two originals to this project. The banjo tune, "The Boys from Nanjemoy," commemorates a community in southern Maryland while her song "Good, Good Girl" is an original lyric with a message somewhat akin to Tammy Wynette's "Your Good Girl's Gonna go Bad." Donna's "Donna-mite" was first played by her in the 1967 motion picture "The Road to Nashville," which is essentially her own recomposition of Bill Monroe's 1949 tune, "Bluegrass Stomp." She originally played "Tribe's Tune" as "Tribe Serenade" and performed it at the Berea College Celebration of Traditional Music in 1988 to honor the family's future biographer who delivered a lecture titled "The Stoneman Family of Virginia" at the same event. Neither tune had been recorded until now and I feel honored that she has done so on this project. As a non-musician, I remain amazed that those original tunes with no lyrics remain in their heads for so long! All fourteen cuts exemplify the tradition that is uniquely Stoneman.
Ivan M. Tribe
Author, The Stonemans: an Appalachian Family and the Music that Shaped Their Lives, 1993.