I have discovered the Stoneman Family some time ago. I was immedately thrilled by the performance of the group, especially by Donna Stoneman on the mandolin. I have learned that Roni Stoneman is considered “The First Lady Of Banjo”.
You can see Donna Stoneman and her mandolin in the following video:
Donna is moving all the time, dancing, jumping and at the same time plays great and energetic mandolin music. And the performances by the Stoneman Family are almost always very funny.
You can learn about the biography of the Stoneman Family in the following video:
Stoneman Family Bio
The Stoneman Family – Goin Up Cripple Creek
That’s one of the signiture pieces by the Stoneman Family:
Basia Bulat – a Canadian singer/songwriter plays some very special instruments: the autoharp, ukulele, charango and the very special pianoette – a fretless zither from the beginning of the 20th century.
I have discovered Basia Bulat from some free concerts on the NPR site and a short feature about her autoharp playing.
But the most fascinating video that I have found is Basia Bulat with her song The Shore. In this song Basia Bulat plays the Pianoette, one of the rare kinds of fretless zithers that were invented during the first years of the 20th century. When I first saw the video I was really wondering how Basia Bulat could produce this fascinating sound with chords and even a tremolo sometimes with just one instrument.
The pianoette has a special mechanism to play chords with the left hand, while the melody is played with a little hammer that beats onto the double strings in the same way as the hammered dulcimer is played. It is even possible to play a kind of tremolo with the swinging hammer.
The pianoette produces a great sound, and makes this song to a very special one:
#16.1 Basia Bulat – “The Shore”
Wideosesja Basia Bulat with – a young Canadian with Polish roots.
In the Palace of Culture during a concert at the Cultural Cafe Basia promote their second album “Heart Of My Own.” With this album specifically for the Free the Music! played the songs “The Shore” and “Hush.”
I heard some tracks from Penelope Houston’s CD Cut You in a local independent radio station many years ago. The voice of Penelope Houston, and the arrangements with autoharp and also mandolin in several tracks made my buy this CD, and since then I have listened to it now and then.
There are some youtube videos with songs by Penelope Houston from this period, mainly the songs with the album cover – but no live videos that show her with the autoharp.
Penelope Houston – Snakebite
“Snakebite” features in the lp Karmal Apple (1994, Normal rec)
Penelope Houston – Sweetheart
This song is from the CD Cut You, and you can hear the mandolin very good in the middle of the song
The following video shows Penelope Houston playing the autoharp – although the sound is not very good in this video.
Penelope Houston and Lout – “Hole” @ Broadway Studios, San Francisco, 10/12/09
Penelope Houston and Lout performing a song during Journey to the End of the Bay: Punk Rockers Spill Their Guts, launch party for the book GIMME SOMETHING BETTER by Jack Boulware & Silke Tudor.
Penelope dedicated the band’s set to Brendan Mullen, who passed away that afternoon.
The event took place at Broadway Studios (formerly the On Broadway).
Some other videos show performances of Penelope Houstin with the band Avengers, an early Punk Band from the Los Angeles area. You can find thios videos in my playlist below.
Many years ago I have bought an autoharp, and since then this instrument is mainly stored in my cupboard – but every now and then I take it and play some chords on it. So I thought that I should also write about the autoharp in my blog.
The autoharp is a kind of zither with some buttons that allow to play chords with almost no effort.
Typically the strings are tuned chromatically, which allows to play in different keys. But there exist also diatonic autoharps that are tuned completely in one key, somtimes with two strings tuned to the same note.
It is very easy to use an autoharp to play chords and use it for accompanying. It is also very easy to play a blues on a autoharp. As far as I know the autoharp was used often to accompany songs in church – kind of a replacement for a much more expensive church organ.
The Carter family, especially Maybell Carter and June Carter, played the autoharp frequently to their songs.
Another singer that plays the autoharp and that I like very much is Penelope Houston – this is one example where you can see her with an autoharp:
Penelope Houston and Lout – “You Reel Me In” @ Broadway Studios, San Francisco, 10/12/09
My favorite CD by Penelope Houstons is Cut You – on this CD she plays autoharp, and the band does also include a good mandolin player who plays some fantastic melodies to the songs.
The following video shows a player with a very special styl, very smooth, playing the melody and also chords to accompany it. After an accident he could not play the guitar any more, but he is still able to play the autoharp. I have selected a nice version of the well known Wayfaring Stranger – you can find more examples in the youtube channel of gfharper:
Autoharp – Wayfaring Stranger
Noodling around with my Ron Wall Mountain Harp
Another youtube channel dedicated to the autoharp ist the channel of autoharpist. There you can find some instructional videos and other interesting videos – here a little melody by the mandolin player Herschel Sizemore:
“Rebecca” played on diatonic autoharp
Written by mandolinist Herschel Sizemore, a great tune with an interesting rhythm.