Ernest V. Stoneman | The Unsung Father of Country Music (Long Gone Sound)

stoneman-cd-cover.jpgThis release should do much to restore Stoneman to his rightful place in country music history.







In the summer of 1927, Victor Talking Machine Company producer Ralph Peer recorded 76 songs by 19 country acts in a makeshift studio set up on the second floor of a warehouse in Bristol, Tenn.

Although this was not the first time country music had been recorded, the Bristol sessions are often referred to as the "big bang" of country music in recognition of the extraordinary influence of the recordings from that session. They brought mountain music to a much larger audience than it had previously enjoyed, and two acts recorded in the Bristol sessions became household names: the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.

The career of Ernest V. Stoneman, who helped organize the Bristol sessions as well as recording at them, followed quite a different trajectory. A native of nearby Carroll County, Va., Stoneman was far from unknown in 1927: He had already recorded with various companies, and his 1925 "The Titanic" sold tens of thousands of copies. But within a few years Stoneman’s plain, unfiltered country sound fell out of favor with the public and his musical career largely ceased for over 20 years.

Stoneman ceased recording in 1929, with the exception of a 1934 session for ARC, and his music was mostly forgotten until the 1950s, when his early recordings were featured on several Folkways releases. Stoneman and his extended family also appeared on television and resumed touring in the 1950s, and in 1967 the Stonemans were named Band of the Year by the Country Music association.

The release of Ernest V. Stoneman: The Unsung Father of Country Music by Long Gone Sound Productions and 5-String Productions should do much to restore Stoneman to his rightful place in country music history. Produced by Christopher C. King and Henry "Hank" Sapoznik, the two-CD set features Stoneman recordings from 1925 through 1934 and can be truly said to include something for everyone. Stoneman sings on many tracks and plays guitar, autoharp and harmonica; other musicians who appear on many tracks include Kahle Brewer on fiddle and vocals, Frank Jenkins on fiddle, and Bolen Frost and Oscar Jenkins on banjo.

Stoneman’s hit "The Titanic" is included on the first CD (and yes, it’s the same song you learned as a child: "Husbands and wives and children lost their lives/ It was sad when that great ship went down"). Many of the tracks are country standards, including "John Hardy," "The Wreck of the ’97" and "Old Joe Clark." Among the fiddle tunes included are "West Virginia Highway," "Hop Light Ladies" and "Flop Eared Mule."

There’s also a generous selection of humorous and novelty numbers, including the satirical "The Religious Critic" (also known as "S-A-V-E-D") and "Possum Trot School Exhibition," which incorporates musical selections into a humorous skit about a country school.

As if the recordings themselves were not enough, the physical packaging with art direction by Susan Archie is also a real work of art. Generously illustrated and including informative essays and track notes by Sapoznik, this CD box set makes a strong case for the title’s claim that Stoneman really was "the unsung father of country music." A+ | Sarah Boslaugh

RIYL: The Carter Family: 1927-1934, You Ain’t Talking to Me: Charlie Poole and the Roots of Country Music, People Take Warning!

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