The Unsung Father Of Country Music 1925-1934
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Ernest V. Stoneman, pioneering composer & country performer, defined the formula of 'three chords and the truth' and became the first rural singer/songwriter of the 20th century to record. This collection features 46 beautifully remastered performances of Ernest and his circle of talented friends & family. Sentimental love songs, early gospel hymns, fiddle-breakdowns, and disaster songs are included in this set with over 20 never before reissued. Stoneman was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame in early 2008. Deluxe package also contains a 44 page booklet with an introduction by Patsy Stoneman, which contains many rare & haunting images.
When Victor Records field engineer and A&R man Ralph Peer arrived in Bristol, TN, in the summer of 1927, he had a mission to record every rural Southern musician he could find. By the time he left Bristol, Peer had recorded 76 songs by 19 different acts and had set the cornerstones for the future of country music, a genre that had yet to be recognized or defined. The Bristol Sessions, the so-called Big Bang of country music, yielded the first recordings from both the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, as well as historic recordings by names less familiar, but no less important, including some restyled and rewritten traditional rave-ups by a previous Peer discovery, harmonica and autoharp player Ernest V. Stoneman. Stoneman had turned up on Peer's doorstep some three years earlier, and Peer, impressed by the musician's ability to generate original material, had steered him to Victor, and Stoneman's first release, a two-sided original epic narrative called The Titanic, was an immediate and huge hit, selling thousands of copies in 1925. It was, alas, to be Stoneman's first and last trip to the charts, making him, as well as arguably country music's first true songwriter, also one of the genre's first one-hit wonders. This delightfully conceived two-disc set covers Stoneman's early recording career between 1925 and 1934 (with sides attributed to his various groups the Blue Ridge Corn Shuckers, Frank Jenkins' Pilot Mountaineers, the Sweet Brothers, the Ernest V. Stoneman Trio, and others) with the Gennett, Paramount, Edison, Victor, and AR imprints, and what emerges is a revelatory look at how Stoneman turned an assortment of gospel hymns, hillbilly raps, and square dance reels into an often wry, ironic, and completely original view of the world turning through its mysterious affairs. The Titanic is here, as well as reconfigured fiddle romps like Old Joe Clark, the poignant All I've Got's Gone (in early and late versions), odd, ornate narratives like The Fate of Talmadge Osbourne, and eerily modern-sounding pieces like Nine Pound Hammer, all of which show, given the times, an uncommonly sharp musical sense. It's comforting, somehow, to think that Stoneman, who started out recording to wax cylinder, now has a defining collection available on CD in the 21st century. Some voices don't get lost. Thank God for that. --Steve Leggett, Allmusic.com
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In the case of King's latest release, "Ernest V. Stoneman: The Unsung Father of Country Music," the surface noise of the old original 78s acts as a kind of portal into an earlier time, coloring the music in the sepia tones of a long gone age. Collecting tracks recorded between 1925 and 1934, this beautiful package (including a book of extensive pictures and liner notes handsomely designed by Susan Archie) serves as an overview of Stoneman's unsung career. Born in Carroll County, Virginia in 1893, Stoneman was one of the earliest country music journeymen of his day, playing a variety of instruments (most notably the guitar, autoharp, and banjo) and writing his own songs. His recordings from the mid-1920s for such labels as OKeh and Victor helped bring Blue Ridge mountain music to a wider audience. Stoneman was also a key player in the now legendary Bristol sessions, in which such imminent country acts as the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers were recorded for the very first time.
Some of Ernest Stoneman's more dire tales of death and disaster, such as "The Wreck of the Old '97" and his first and only hit, "The Titanic," appeared on last year's celebrated "People Take Warning!" Those songs return here as examples of his torn-from-the-headlines disaster balladry, but this collection demonstrates how versatile a songwriter Stoneman was by displaying a wide selection of musical styles. Tragic odes to gruesome railroad accidents ("The Fate of Talmadge Osborne") vie with raucous fiddle reveries ("West Virginia Highway" and "Flop Eared Mule"). Joyous gospel hymns such as "Are You Washed in the Blood?" and "There's a Light Lit Up in Galilee" put one in mind of long-forgotten baptisms by the riverside and rural one-room churches, while hillbilly comedy skits like "Possum Trot School Exhibition" and "Old Time Corn Shuckin'" provide the perfect antidote of country store whimsy and moonshine mirth. Tales of lost love and courtship like "Too Late" and "The Spanish Merchant's Daughter" hang in the air with the cloying sweetness of maple syrup, revealing an innocence and naivete long extinct in this modern world.
This is the original country music, born in the hills of southwestern Virginia long before country music became synonymous with Nashville. Music that is smooth yet deceptively strong, like the finest corn liquor. Fans of the Carter Family, Dock Boggs, the Skillet Lickers, Charlie Poole, and Jimmie Rodgers will be inevitably drawn to the sweet lilting sounds of Stoneman, as will anyone with a desire to hear rural roots music in its infancy. This music surpasses its own time and place and lives on through the strange alchemy of the phonograph needle and the dusty old 78.
He recorded on a number of different labels and with a variety of outfits, which contributes to the diverse and highly textured sound of this collection. In addition to recording solo, Stoneman recorded with groups featuring members of his family, including his wife Hattie on fiddle. He also cut sides with Galax, Va. brothers Herbert and Earl Sweet and with father and son team Frank and Oscar Jenkins, from North Carolina.
Stoneman was a multi-instrumentalist, manning not only the guitar but the autoharp and banjo as well. Songs such as "The Titanic" and "The Wreck on the C&O" feature Stoneman on his autoharp and self-accompaniment on harmonica. The slightly eerie drone of the autoharp on the "The Titanic" befits its subject matter. Stoneman's crisp guitar work, featured on many of the tracks, is full of the active bass-run style that characterizes Old-Timey guitar playing. The rich variety of musical styles used by Stoneman and his rotating cast of bandmates is impressive. The discs feature recordings of fiddle tune standards, ballads, gospel numbers like "The Resurrection," and hillbilly vaudeville bits.
The packaging is attractive and informative, including pithy annotations for all of the songs. The twenty page essay by Sapoznik is well-written and lively, telling Stoneman's story and providing the sort of historical background and cultural context that help bring the tracks to life. Scattered throughout the package are photographs of Stoneman and his family, reproductions of early twentieth century postcard images of western Virginia, and ancient advertising images. The re-mastering work of the original 78 records by Christopher King is excellent; the tracks have minimal crack and hiss. In fact, they suggest that the aesthetic principle guiding his transfer work is that noise should be minimized, but not at the price of allowing the recordings to lose their character precisely as 78s. Pass this one by at your peril, Old-Timey Music fans.
This is an astounding work. Stoneman was one of the early creators of what we now call country music and his accomplishments were nearly forgotten. He was the first A&R guy, the progenitor of the modern singer-songwriter, an accomplished singer and instrumentalist and his children went on to be great musicians. But until this set, only collectors of old records and country music scholars were truly aware of his importance.
Chris King and Hank Sapoznik have rectified this injustice. By picking his best recordings and expertly gleaning the music from the old discs, they have made his work accessible to modern ears. And the notes put his career and accomplishments in context. His life was a story that couldn't have made up: rags to riches to rags to riches.
Can't recommend it highly enough.