This is Wade’s third CD and a bit of a departure from the two earlier projects in that this CD incorporates more of a band sound and Wade sings. Earlier projects featured a more bare-bones approach and other performers singing. Wade’s banjo playing and the interesting arrangements (featuring a lot of Mike Carver on pump organ and piano, along with Zan McLeod on guitar, Danny Knicely on mandolin and bass, and James Leva on fiddle) have a bluegrass tinged old-time sound that makes them highly accessible to those not versed in the rawer old-time sounds. Wade’s masterful banjo shines whether he is playing clawhammer or fingerstyle. The latter is featured to good end on a couple of medleys. The juxtaposition of the old-time banjo and fiddle with the bluegrass-influenced arrangements featuring hot mandolin make for very good listening although it may not please the hardcore old-time or bluegrass fan. Carver’s keyboard work is always spot on and a solid contribution to the sound, often with eerie effect.
The formula works very well and for the most part this is a highly listenable project with a great balance of songs and tunes, both well known and less known. Wade is a much stronger banjo player than vocalist. His wispy vocals don’t carry the weight required to quite deliver the goods on “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” “Arcade Blues,” or “The Cuckoo Bird.”
The artwork and detailed forty-page insert provide the history of Wade’s journey so far. The great photographs of his heroes and songs document his mentors and his lessons learned along the way. The notes are thorough and informative. This is a first-rate effort that will appeal to those who like their traditional music not too traditional and have enjoyed Wade’s previous work. (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 600 Maryland Ave. SW, Ste. 2001, Washington, DC 20024, folkways.si.edu.)RCB