Starlings, TN Aim to Keep the Dulcimer Alive


When Steven Stubblefield of the roots rockers Starlings, TN first encountered the bowed dulcimer, it was in the hands of the late virtuoso David Schnaufer. Even so, the strange antique did not impress at first.

“It sounded like 1,000 cats dying, and I asked him why anyone on earth would make an instrument to sound like that,” Stubblefield told CMT Edge. “He then pulled the top drawer out of his dresser, placed the dulcimer on top and drug the bow across it again. It was the most enchanting, beautiful, creepy sound I ever heard. The dresser served as the amp.”

From that moment on, dulcimers — and their many variations — have been at the core of the Starlings, TN sound. On “Hey Pretty Mamma,” a track from their seventh full-length album All the Good Times, bandmate Tim Bryan plays the bowed version while Stubblefield picks on a banjo-dulcimer hybrid.

The comfortable lyrics are about hanging out at home, but hushed vocals and the ringing of these artifacts of American mountain music provide a feel that’s not twangy — more like tingly — and anything but typical.

Although he wrote the song about a rekindled love from his youth, Stubblefield credits the distinctive sound to his mentor.

“The dulcimer has and always will be in the forefront of any Starlings, TN endeavor,” he said. “We loved David and we miss him dearly since we lost him to cancer in 2006. For us, it is truly an honor for people to speak of David Schnaufer and Starlings, TN in the same breath.”

Enjoy a break from the ordinary with Starlings, TN’s “Hey Pretty Mamma.”