Frank's among the greatest & most influential mandolinists
Playing Time – 37:53 -- Songs – El Nino, Don't Lie to Me, Early Morning Train, I Thought I Heard You Calling My Name,
Miss Marsha, My Aching Heart, Banks of the Ohio, Two Lonely Hearts, Bluegrass Mandolin, White Silver Sands, Daughter of Midnight, Danny Boy.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Wakefield is a one-of-a-kind mandolin player who proves, at 70 years old in June, 2004, he’s still brimming with expressive musicality. His trademark has always been melodic expression and a keen traditional bluegrass stream of consciousness. Originally from Emory Gap, Tennessee, he now lives in upstate New York. He learned to play music in rural pentecostal “snakehandling” churches of east Tennessee. While his earliest musical instrument was a guitar he played with a butter knife, Wakefield took up mandolin at age sixteen after moving to Dayton, Ohio. There, he met Red Allen and formed the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys. He had grown up on a farm and had never gone to school, but he eventually learned to read and write by age 28. In the fifties and sixties, he worked with Jimmy Martin, Red Allen and The Kentuckians, The Stanley Brothers, and Greenbriar Boys. In 1972, he began performing and recording as a solo artist, as well as with his own Frank Wakefield Band.
Encouraged by Bill Monroe to form his own style, Frank set out to develop a reputation as an innovative mandolin master with his 1922 Gibson Lloyd Loar F-5. His album, “Don’t Lie to Me,” demonstrates some of his unique melodic inventiveness on seven instrumental and five vocal numbers. Don’t expect everything to be perfectly in place as you might hear on some of the slick bluegrass products coming out of Nashville’s studios. “Don’t Lie to Me” was engineered and produced by Tom Mindte of Patuxent Records, an independent recording label based in Rockville, Maryland that specializes in American roots music. Wakefield’s project emits a charming and rustic sort of purity.
His original mandolin tunes use fairly standard arrangements with lively instrumental interplay, usually alternating the mandolin breaks with banjo, fiddle or even some occasional lead guitar. “Daughter of Midnight” and “Miss Marsha” get my votes for favorites. “Early Morning Train” is a novelty number that would’ve been enhanced by some hot breaks from his accompanists. At four minutes long, the bluesy and tritely named “Bluegrass Mandolin” gets a bit tedious and comes off like a mandolin study from one of his lessons. “Banks of the Ohio” suffers by being only presented as an instrumental.
The album closer, “Danny Boy,” however, is played solo and is Wakefield’s opportunity to shine. Five vocal numbers round out the project, and the repertoire draws heavily on traditional bluegrass and country covers from the 50s and 60s. The versions of these same songs recorded by the Osborne Brothers with Red Allen, Porter Wagoner or Hank Snow are hard to compete with. Standouts include the two songs written by Dorothy and Earl Sloan, “My Aching Heart” and “Two Lonely Hearts,” with Bryan Deere’s lead vocal, Dede Wyland’s tenor, Frank’s baritone, plus Mike Auldridge’s cameo appearances on dobro.
The primary band for this project includes four regular members of The Patuxent Partners, a regional traditional bluegrass group that’s been together since 1975. Singer Bryan Deere, from southern Maryland, appears on three tracks with a voice that is clear and passionate. Besides writing the liner notes (which unfortunately lack song-by-song credits), Jack Leiderman lays down some solid rhythm guitar and/or soulful fiddle on nine tracks. Bassist Victoria McMullen, from Georgia, is a consummate musician. While Tom Mindte doesn’t play his mandolin on “Don’t Lie to Me,” he does sing harmony on two numbers.
A strength of this album are some impressive guest artists from Maryland or New York, including Bill Keith (banjo, 11 tracks), Jon Glik (fiddle, 9 tracks), Dede Wyland (vox, 2 tracks), Mike Auldridge (dobro, 2 tracks), Billy Kemp (lead guitar, 2 tracks), and Craig Vance (guitar, 1 track). All of these players are perfectly attuned to Frank Wakefield’s eclectic musical mannerisms, with Keith and Glik really strutting their stuff. Keith’s innovative chromatic banjo playing needs little introduction. Glik plays regularly in a band called “Bluestone” and has worked with Del McCoury, The Basement Band, and Footworks.
Frank Wakefield once said that he’d like to be remembered as “the greatest mandolin player that ever lived, and the one who wrote more mandolin songs than all the mandolin players put together.” He is certainly among the greatest and has been very influential on the multitude of mandolinists who have followed in his footsteps. Unfortunately, some people seem more impressed by his unique and humorous ability to talk backwards. So, in closing, all I can say is, “Hello! Thank this for reading you. As a masterful instrumentalist, Wake Frankfield is right there up with Mill Bonroe and Woc Dotson. Listening to his new album has been your pleasure. Bless Me.” (Joe Ross)