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STEPHEN WADE 'Banjo Diary - Lessons from Tradition' SFW-40208-CD

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There's a lot going on in this new and attractive issue from the Smithsonian Folkways label, and it's a record that we think any fan of old-time banjo will want to have. Wade, who has had records out before --including one on the County label --is a banjo historian as well as a good musician. He cites a bunch of various sources in a fascinating 40-page booklet of notes that is as informative as the music is good. Covering the songs one by one, he cites and refers to people like Fleming Brown, Charlie Faurot, Woody Wachtel and Tony Ellis (a good friend) in his own career that started in Chicago. Fleming brown was apparently a great early influence on other banjo pickers there in the 1960s, and he is mentioned often in the notes. As to the music, Wade has a few other musicians help out, including Danny Knicely, James Leva and Zan McLeod, but the most noticeable is Mike Craver (Red Clay Ramblers) who provides an effective pump organ tastefully in the background. The 18 tunes (Wade sings on about a third of them) are an excellent mixture of common and obscure pieces. Tunes like TRAIN 45, CUCKOO'S NEST, HOME SWEET HOME and LITTLE RABBIT get treatments that are slightly different than popular versions of these pieces. But the most effective are several slow, moody tunes that are really lovely: ROCKY HILL, LITTLE BETTY ANN and HAND IN HAND. These are very reminiscent of a style played by Tony Ellis, which is not surprising as Wade & Ellis have been friends for many years. There are no weak spots in this superb recording, and it continues to grow on me the more I play it. Highly Recommended for Old-Time banjo fans.