Dancing in the Parlor - Stephen Wade

Dancing in the Parlor

Stephen Wade
and fourteen supporting artists

(Country CD 2721)

County Records
P.O. Box 191
Floyd, Virginia 24091

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Ed Cray

Stephen Wade is one of a comparatively small group of performers who are also well-regarded folklorists and collectors, men and women who came to folk music through the revival of the 1940's and its sequelae (that group that includes such worthies as Mike Seeger, John Cohen, Alan Jabbour and John Hartford, to name just a few who, like Ward, have specialized in the music of the Southern Appalachians).

That duality, that foot-in-both-camps animates (that is the precise verb) this anthology of five-string banjo showpieces. Here are no less than 24 instrumentals, songs and ballads performed by Wade in a farrago of styles: two-finger, three-finger, frailing, double-thumbing, as well as a couple this bump-ditty, bump-ditty banjo picker did not recognize as humanly possible.

There are even a couple of out-and-out concert pieces, including a theme adapted from Ludwig von Beethoven's slight Sonatina in C for mandolin with an assist from Seamus Egan's tenor banjo; and Reckless Rufus with Tom Layton on washboard.

In all, it is an impressive performance, even dazzling, the sort of display that alternately dismays and awes those of us with lesser talent. But more important than sheer virtuosity is Wade's musicianship displayed here.

He resists beating to death Rocky Hill - learned from the legendary Rufus Crisp - favoring instead a more lyric line. As a chamber musician might, he subdues his solo virtuosity when necessary. With Alan Jabbour and Tony Ellis, he delivers a string band rendition of Henry Reed's Over the Waterfall. He steps back to become an accompanist, deftly supporting bluesman John Cephus in Darling Cory and bluegrass singer Dudley Connell in Pretty Polly (the unusual pairing of singers and songs is surprisingly successful).

Wade adds a graceful touch with his notes, history-minded and sensitive to his sources, in particular, his teacher, the late Fleming Brown. It is unostentatious scholarship and autobiography both.

In sum then, Stephen Wade offers a marvelous entertainment, an advanced banjo tutor, and a bit of the history of the folk song revival in one package.

Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz (rschwartz@oeb.harvard.edu)

Copyright 1999, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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