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Frank Wakefield and Leon Morris

Frank Wakefield and Leon Morris – 2016 (Patuxent)

Reviewed by Larry Stephens

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CDs by Frank Wakefield and Leon Morris

Frank Wakefield is widely known as a mandolin innovator. He came on the national bluegrass scene in its fledgling years, partnering with Red Allen in 1952. He's been associated with several bluegrass greats including Jimmy Martin, Don Reno and Ralph Stanley. He broke out of the bluegrass mold when he started opening for The Grateful Dead (although The Dead had an affinity for bluegrass music), played with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Pops.

Leon Morris has been associated with bluegrass on the east coast, settling in Washington D.C. in the late '50's. He played with Buzz Busby for several years before striking out on his own. In the 1960s, he recorded some records with Wakefield.

Now, five decades later, they have put together a new project with some other capable musicians including Mark Delaney (banjo), Nate Leath (fiddle) and Stefan Custodi (bass). Custodi seems to favor the Tom Gray (Country Gentlemen) approach to bluegrass bass: play a lot of notes and runs.

Unfortunately, Wakefield is starting to miss some notes. Except for a slightly rough edge on the introduction, he's in good form playing "Made Up My Mind," but you can hear some stumbles on the "Blue Monday" intro. Even with these rough edges in places, he is still a good mandolin player and an important historical figure on the mandolin.

Several cuts were composed by Morris or Wakefield. "You're the One" (not to be confused with the Dwight Yoakum number that Flatt Lonesome made the IBMA 2016 Song of the Year) is a Wakefield song in 3/4 time. Flatt Lonesome is an excellent example of blended harmony while the harmony on this CD is what you heard from Flatt & Scruggs: each singer hitting his notes, but the voices not a close blend.

Wakefield also penned "Made Up My Mind," a nice love song, and the instrumental "Rondo" with Danny Knicely doing a very good guitar break. Morris has three cuts including "Sitting Here Waiting For You," "Blue Monday" and "Lena." Morris sings lead on these with Danny Paisley singing tenor. On all cuts, Delaney plays a good Scruggs–style banjo. As a retrospective, this will interest many fans of traditional bluegrass, but compared to many other recent bluegrass CDs, it's a step or two off the pace.