Four years ago, when we last visited the Stonemans (Patsy, Donna, and Roni), they had just released their first recording in years for Tom Mindte’s Patuxent Music label. Well, they must have done all right for Tom because here they are again! Digging deep into their vast repertoire, the three sisters have pulled together 14 selections that include ballads from Pop Stoneman (“Bury Me Beneath The Willow”), newer country songs (“Catfish John”), original compositions (“Tribe’s Tune”), and four instrumentals.
Patsy and Roni share the lead singing with Donna stepping in to help with the trio harmony. My hands-down favorite (in part because it was new to me) is “Ring The Bell, Watchman,” sung by Roni. With simple guitar accompaniment and dainty support from fiddle and mandolin, the number sounds positively Victorian. Patsy is as solid as ever with her autoharp, keeping the memory of Pop Stoneman alive. Donna’s mandolin sparkles all over the CD, but I especially liked her original tune “Donna-mite” and her energetic playing on the old fiddle tune “Rubber Dolly.” Roni gets in some good licks on the banjo, particularly on her instrumental “The Boys From Nanjomoy,” but I wish someone had tweaked the tuning of her high break.
Once again, fiddle Nate Grower and guitarist Jeremy Stephens provide strong backup that never gets in the way of the sisters’ playing. Bass player Stu Geisbert anchors the rhythm and Tom Mindte himself occasionally “basses in” (sings bass) in the fashion of A.P. Carter. Tom’s mixing also deserves a mention because he stays away from the current “wall of sound” approach in favor of letting each voice and instrument shine.
Of the 23 Stoneman siblings, Patsy, Donna, and Roni are the only ones left. The Stoneman Tradition is a testament to the unflagging Stoneman spirit, their deep musical roots, and the strength of these three women. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848, www.pxrec.com.)MHH