Frank Wakefield and Red Allen - The WDON Recordings 1963
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The WDON Recordings 1963 (Patuxent, 2014)

Frank Wakefield and Red Allen

Reviewed by John Lupton

Frank Wakefield & Red Allen is the artist and title identification as shown on the front cover and spine of this collection, but the back cover correctly adds "and the Kentuckians," the name of the enduring band formed by Allen and Wakefield in the early 1960s. Harley "Red" Allen had first gained fame in the 1950s as a singer and guitarist with the Osborne Brothers, contributing to a distinctive trio sound that was, as the Osbornes have said over the years, designed to vocally emulate the role that a pedal steel guitar played in a classic country band. Frank Wakefield, who is still performing in his 80s, had played mandolin for Jimmy Martin's Sunny Mountain Boys and others when he and Allen brought bass player Tom Morgan and banjo player Pete Kuykendall (for the past several decades, the editor and manager of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine) aboard to form the Kentuckians in 1961.

In an era when live radio performance was still a staple for bluegrass and country bands, Allen and Wakefield landed a regular Sunday afternoon gig on WDON in Wheaton, Md., a suburb in the hotbed of bluegrass that D.C. has long been. The call letters have changed in the years since, and the current format is Spanish-language, but the 22 transcriptions in this collection (maintained these past 50 years and more by Kuykendall) are an entertaining and instructive "time portal" back to what many still consider the "Golden Age" of bluegrass when, in addition to the number of recordings and broadcasting outlets devoted to the music, it was also being "rediscovered" as part of the "Great Folk Scare" as well as folk festival appearances by Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers. All are well-known standards from the bluegrass and old country canons: "Little Rosewood Casket," "Will You Be Satisfied That Way," "I Wouldn't Change You If I Could" and "I'm Blue And Lonesome Too" represent just a handful.

Although there are a few short spots of distortion, the recording quality is excellent on the whole, nicely capturing the full dynamic range and power of Allen's remarkable voice while also highlighting on tracks like "Give Me The Flowers While I'm Living" that all four of them were vocally and instrumentally accomplished.

Wakefield, Kuykendall and Morgan are still with us, but Allen passed away more than 20 years ago. Collections of archival recordings like this often are more of a history lesson than an entertainment experience, but the enjoyment radio audiences of more than 50 years ago must have had comes through loud and clear.

CDs by Frank Wakefield and Red Allen

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