The Greenbriar Boys

Better Late Than Never

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When Ralph Rinzler left the Greenbriars to take a job as a folklorist at the Smithsonian, the band bounced back by hiring Frank Wakefield, a Tennessee picker who'd been playing mandolin since he was a teenager. He's since gone on to become one of the most influential mandolin players in bluegrass. With Jim Buchanan on fiddle (he'd played with Jim & Jesse, among others) the new quartet took a slightly new direction, more traditional and less tongue in cheek, although their humor and energetic musicianship never faltered. Wakefield was also a first-rate vocalist and sang lead on as many tunes as John Herald. His softer, soulful Southern wail was a good complement to Herald's harder edged citybilly style. Wakefield's playing is more lyrical than Rinzler's, bringing more depth to the band's instrumental prowess. Wakefield knew a wealth of great material from country and bluegrass traditions and was a strong writer too. His call and response duet with Herald on "I Heard the Bluebirds Sing" is sentimental in the best sense of the word, a deeply moving love song. "Little Birdie" is a showcase for Wakefield's wailing tenor and mandolin and the group's harmony vocal work, a traditional rave-up full of spit and vinegar. "Prisoner's Song" is a country standard give new life by Bob Yellin's clattering banjo solo, Buchanan's restless fiddle, and Wakefield's deep blue vocal. "Alligator Man" adds a bit of Cajun stomp to the party with Buchanan's fiddle complementing Herald's lively vocal. This album's biggest hit is Mike Nesmith's "Different Drum" with another killer vocal from Herald and brilliant mandolin work from Wakefield. The Stone Poneys copied this arrangement and landed their lead singer, Linda Ronstadt, her first Top 40 hit.

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