SING OUT! MAGAZINE
review by JL
In all genres of music, there seems still to be a tendency to view all-female bands as novelties, despite the obvious fact that in many cases
they sing and play as well or better than the guys. If the cover story of the previous issue of Sing Out! has convinced anyone that the list of
top-flight all-female old-time bands begins and ends with Uncle Earl - good as they are - then be prepared to be convinced by the Stairwell Sisters that
there are at least two. (Check out that same issue for the Stairwell Sisters' song "Could It Be Him" - Eds.)
Based on the West Coast, in Oakland, the "Sisters" are Evie Ladin (banjo), Stephanie Prausnitz (fiddle), Lisa Berman (guitar and "old-time" dobro), Sue
Sandlin (guitar and "old-time" tiple) and Martha Hawthorne (bass). Who sings? All of 'em. Who writes? Most of 'em. Along the way, they pay homage to the likes of Fiddlin' Arthur Smith ("Weary Weary World"), Kentucky fiddler Owen "Snake" Chapman ("Big Black Cat"), Dock Boggs ("Drunkard's Love Child") (sic) and more.
Don't get the impression it's a lesson or lecture in musicology or field recording, though. The ladies are having a huge amount of fun playing these
old tunes as well as their own, and that sense of good times, high energy and love of music and performance permeates and resonates throughout the
whole disc. Male or female, one of the best bands in the biz.
Vol. 47 No. 3 Fall 2003
review by TD
The Bay Area has been a wellspring of old-time and bluegrass music since the late 1960's.The latest band
to come from that scene is the Stairwell Sisters. I especially love variety in old-time recordings. I lose interest
is all but the very best repertoire-based fiddle tune recordings. Not since the days of Any Old Time Stringband
and the Good Old Persons have I heard a band from the distaff side that is as exciting and wonderful as
The Stairwell Sisters.The Sisters are made up of Evie Ladin, banjo and buckdancing; Martha Hawthorne, bass;
Sue Sandlin, guitar and tiple; Lisa Berman, Dobro, guitar and banjo; and Stephanie Prausnitz, fiddle and cello.
Diversity is the formula on this CD. It opens with the wonderful fiddle and banjo workout of "Snake" Chapman's
"Rock Andy." With this tune, Lisa Berman's Dobro is introduced to a great Kentucky old-time tune and it really works!
The Coon Creek Girls' "Banjo Pickin' Girl" follows with glorious harmonies and a driving pulse.Bill Grant's
"Kiamichi Moon" works well because it really sounds like a lost Jimmie Rodgers tunes and the recording sounds
like an old radio transcription of a local band from the 1950's. The band even tackles a back-mountain version of
Bob Dylan's "Buckets of Rain" demonstrating just how close to the roots Bob's music remains when played by
talented hands. There is so much more that is good about this CD including Stephanie Prausnitz's haunting cello
on "No Never No" from the pen of Alice Gerrard and Evie Ladin's charming "Down To The Door" with that
great harmony again! The Stairwell Sisters have produced a gem of a recording with a sound that may go a
long way to introducing traditional mountain music to a whole new audience.