Review: Frank Wakefield Band
Forward, in Reverse
hope I read Frank Wakefield’s review of my concert and he doesn’t like
Wakefield, still rebounding from coronary-bypass surgery six months ago,
took the stage at the Linda Norris auditorium last Saturday (with
bandmates Deane Lewis on five-string banjo, Pat Mullaly on guitar, and
Fred Woodward on upright bass), it became obvious why his former pupil
David Grisman hailed him as having “split the bluegrass atom.” He played
with the speed and precision of Bill Monroe (who told him 50 years ago
to find his own style) and Ricky Skaggs, but also explored musical
regions unfathomed by them with his bizarre yet canny note choices.
Dizzying downward spirals of dissonant runs and other melodic epiphanies
blown over the conventional chords of old-school bluegrass songs left
these ears amazed.
Deane Lewis was luminous on three-finger-style banjo and tenor vocals, while Pat Mullaly flatpicked occasional, sturdy guitar solos on the slower tunes in addition to his fine backup work. Both joined Wakefield in trio harmonies and also sang lead on a few numbers.
Wakefield’s backwards- reality shtick aside, the show was a mix of material he recorded for Folkways in 1964 with singer Red Allen and banjoist Bill Keith, and more recent work. Highlights included the minor-key gospel tune “Counting on David,” in which Wakefield’s penchant for outré soloing first surfaced, “The Mexican Stomp,” an original with seamless 3/4 to 4/4 time changes, and “Ashes of Love,” in which his clowning took a musical turn as he picked out a playful solo based on wide melodic leap in slow rhythms before following it with a second chorus, this time a cascade of fast eighth notes.
The only major foul-up of the night was the beginning of “Little Maggie,” when the band went off half-cocked, lurching through a few bars of bedlam before finding the beat. Given Wakefield’s extraordinary playing, though, even that didn’t stop the show from being among the top nights of acoustic music in the Capital District so far this year.
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