Just want to add my voice to the chorus of praise for Quintin Stephens' new
CD release, "Under the Porch Light". Produced in collaboration with Robert
Force, this is a truly remarkable album that gives new meaning to the term
"power dulcimer". There are 13 cuts on this recording, all but 2 of which
are original compositions by Quintin. He uses the dulcimer to paint scenes
and pictures in our minds. Indeed, the first time I listened to this
recording, I had inadvertantly left my CD player on "random play" - but I had
no trouble whatsoever identifying cuts with names such as "Under the Porch
Light", with its rhythmic rocking motion, "Firefly Nights" with its sonic
"flashes" of light, "Portuguese Lawnmower" (just listen to it - what else
could it be?), etc.
Robert Force not only produced this recording, but he performs with Quintin
on 5 of the 13 cuts. The recording was done at Robert's "Blaine Street
Records" studio in Port Townsend, Washington, and the recording quality is
astounding. The tonal quality and clarity of the instruments make it seem
as if the listener is sitting right in the front row - or on the front porch.
Quintin's playing is dynamic, rhythmic, high-energy, and masterful. As
someone else pointed out, this is NOT "your father's dulcimer album" ...
unless your father happened to be Ed Stephens, in which case this album is the
logical extension of one the dulcimer world's most gifted and visionary
musicians. Ed was taken from us much too soon, but Quintin has obviously
followed in his Dad's musical footsteps, which in turn had been greatly
influenced by the musical ground originally broken by Force and d'Ossche'. It's
neat to see that connection come full circle with this recording. Quintin's
primary instrument is a 6-string Force-d'Ossche' model dulcimer built by Blue
The album has a "world folk music" feel to it, alternating from bluesy, to
swinging, to reggae/calypso, to latin, to tex-mex, to "new-age", to .....
Quintin has opened up the entire cabinet of "musical spices" to cook up this
album, has let it simmer to perfection, and now invites us to the feast.
Although 11 of the 13 cuts are all instrumental, this is not what would
normally be considered a "background music" album. The music is far too
compelling for that, and demands undivided attention. There probably should
be a "Surgeon General's" warning printed on it about the dangers of trying
to listen to it while operating a motor vehicle. One moment, the listener
is drawn into the lively syncopated rhythms, unique chordal harmonies, and
jaw-dropping "licks" - and the next, held spellbound by beautiful and evocative
tunes such as "Holding Wonder" (my current personal favorite) and "Ballad of
Guinevere". Quintin has been exploring the technique of "two-handed tapping"
for quite some time, and the result is on display prominently in the cut
entitled "Event Horizon".
The majority of the cuts are solo with Quintin, or Quintin playing multiple
parts through the magic of over-dubbing. But in addition to Robert, Quintin
also draws from a community of other musicians to add guitar ("Mama's Beach
House", "Firefly Nights") and harp ("Waltz of the Daddy-Longlegs").
Once you've listened to this album, you'll find yourself wanting to try out
some these tunes yourself, and Quintin has obliged us by creating a tab book
of all the tunes on this album. You can order the CD and the book from the
Blaine Street Records website at www.BlaineStreet.com, or get in touch with
Quintin directly at:
It does one’s heart good to see younger generations of mountain
dulcimer families carrying the torch. Quintin Stephens is one such
family member who is outstanding in his contemporary style playing.
His dad, Ed Stephens, was an enthusiastic and skilled player of
contemporary music on the mountain dulcimer. Quintin has his own
expressive voice in mountain dulcimer playing that is evident in this
recording. He is joined by a number of excellent musicians, notably
contemporary dulcimer pioneer Robert Force.
It is important and musically fun that the mountain dulcimer continue
its traditions and its versatility be explored with different styles of
music. The style Robert Force and Albert D’Ossché made famous in the
‘70s and ‘80s has a very worthy successor to continue its evolution in
Quintin. Robert lends his strong playing and sense of joy to "Under
the Porch Light."
The recording itself is a testimony to the many chordal possibilities
of the mountain dulcimer. The melodies are chord-derived, and from
that Quintin is able to produce great variety of sounds and moods
because of his many different playing techniques - and because of his
expressive playing. His melodies, rhythms and lyrics reflect a nice
outlook on nature and life that you can hear in the music. The
pleasant case of "island fever" I got listening to "Mama’s Beach
House" and "Portuguese Lawnmower" felt great on this warm August
afternoon. Other highlights for me were Quintin’s excellent two-handed
tapping on "Event Horizon," Quintin and Robert Force dueting on
Robert’s tune "Mud Bud Boogie," their fun improvisation on the
traditional tune "Old Joe Clark" on "Stephens, Lewis & Clark," and the
change of pace in "Waltz of the Daddy-Longlegs."
Great job, Quintin!
Under the Porch Light- Quintin has excelled in creativity and technique.
Most exciting dulcimer CD in a long time. Quintin has gone far beyond his mentors, Robert Force and Al d'Ossche'. He brings new and innovative techniques to his original compositions. Quintin and Robert offer the finest duet playing since Al's passing.
What I've heard so far sounds cool. Congratulations on
further expanding the dulcimer's musical realm. Doing original songs takes guts. Trust
me I know. But I feel original material for the dulcimer is the measure of
diversity that will keep it's popularity growing. I'm proud of ya !
I felt swept away on a Dulcibean wave. All I needed was a refreshing beverage, an ocean breeze and I would have been livin' easy. The "Firefly Nights" I will hear again when I close my eyes and imagine them flitting thru a dusky summer night.
Under the Porch Light incorporates a solid foundation in traditional music with dynamic, innovative techniques to create a fresh approach to the dulcimer. Quintin embodies a high level of driving energy and technical musical artistry. But beyond the merely pyroclastic, woven throughout his pieces are melodic refrains, which make his music highly approachable. He redefines the dulcimer's unique musical voice in the larger context of contemporary composition.
I recommend listening at a full, knobs-up, rock and roll volume in an extremely defensible space-- a personal comfort zone with a cat on your lap, a glass of beer, chips and dips-- something familiar which makes you most at ease. Because, when the tunes begin, the experience is at the same time thrilling, daunting, terrifying, intellectual, emotional, beguiling and, ultimately, fulfilling. How does he do it?
It's a drive time in the Porsche kind of CD, preferably with leather gloves-- ultra light pigskin, open at the back, small gold clasp, and the Italian Alps as the backdrop... a lot of downshifting, Monaco the destination for the night. A lot of tunes have musical quotations in them, which may cause eyebrows to raise. That's the trouble with power chords, once a progression is date-stamped by the Kultural Kops, the psyche has been invaded and the pop tune track also begins to run. Oh well.
One tune specifically worth mentioning is the one entitled Stephens, Lewis and Clark. Quintin is the Stephens, I am the Lewis --Robert L. Force-- and Clark is Old Joe hisself; the latter portion being done in the slap a diddle, whang-whang, fast fiddle tune style. A bow to the past? A glimpse of the future? It's respectful of the roots and branches and yet, bows to the inevitable that each season brings new leaves to that old and venerable tree of Joe Clark.
The beginning of Event Horizon is another example of dulcimer unleashed. Although played by tapping with the fingers, one can certainly envision it being played with tongue and teeth, a can of lighter fluid handily nearby-- or a good Marshall stack to jam the dulcimer into, ripping through the cloth and eviscerating the speaker cones. It's a nod to the traditional past while having a finger on the photon disrupter.
Disruptor indeed. Hmmm. I don't think anyone can do what he does in the opening part of that tune. Not yet anyway, but there will be those who will work at it and eventually get it. Boy howdy! Blow on those boy's fingers a little, Fanny, they done got themselves almost meltified.
Quintin is a consummate quoter-- of my material, of Farinas, of Am Trad, of Am and Eng Pop... but I think his musical voice is also heard through it all. For sure, it is clearly heard showing up in the tunes of his, which are wholly original such as Portuguese Lawnmower, Goodnight Little Cowboys and Holding Wonder. All three are vastly different from each other as well as from previously established dulcimer genres.
No one will be able to say of the production that you can't hear the dulcimer or that it sounds muffled or slap-slap. It's pretty dog gone real and up front. It may not be your father's dulcimer you are hearing, but there is no mistaking what it is, like it or not. It's too big for most living rooms and is certainly not dinner-time, let's-talk-over-it, background music. It is far, far too busy and stimulating for that.
Surrender to the tunes or turn them off. Better yet, get into the Porsche and slip on your driving gloves.
And yes, I do have a financial interest in the disc since I played on it, produced it and released it on my label. But believe me, I value truth more than money. Quintin is an artist whose work stands in its own light. I am honored to have been able to help put it into the hands of others who can appreciate it, and him, for this ground-breaking work of art.