Concert Review: Frank Wakefield Band
WAMC Performing Arts Studio, Albany, NY, 6/2/07
By Glenn Weiser, Metroland, June 14, 2007

Forward, in Reverse
The Frank Wakefield Band
WAMC Performing Arts Studio, June 2

“I hope I read Frank Wakefield’s review of my concert and he doesn’t like it.”
That’s typical of the 73-year-old Tennessee-born virtuoso mandolinist’s relentless onstage banter. Grinning like a court jester, he greets the crowd with “Goodbye,” bids adieu with “Hello,” speaks of aging in reverse, switches the first and second persons in his speech, and tells the audience not to buy his CDs and the live-FM-broadcast listeners to turn off their car radios. And, then, when you’re trying to stop laughing, he’ll get serious and pick his dulcet-toned 1923 Gibson F-5 mandolin like nobody you’ve ever seen.

When 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.

—Glenn Weiser

See the article on the Metroland website 
Index of Metroland Articles by Glenn Weiser    ©2007 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.  


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