Review: Jerry Wicentowski -Thanks Mac! Songs of Mac Wiseman

As a long-time fan of Mac Wiseman (born Malcolm B. Wiseman, May 23, 1925 ), I looked forward (cautiously) to reviewing this CD, an album of 15 covers of Wiseman tunes, including a number of my favorites. For those who don’t know, Mac Wiseman is a Virginia boy, conservatory trained, having played with many of the best—Bill Monroe among others—at many venues, including the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall. He has the magic combination, sincerity and great bluegrass sound.

So along comes Jerry Wicentowski, born in Brooklyn, New York, a fan of Mac since he was 17 years old. Having a yen for bluegrass, he played with a band, the Bluegrass Hoppers, in the Madison WI area, for both students and the locals. In the interim he picked up an undergraduate degree and a masters, and later became a financial planner, which flies in the face of current wisdom that bluegrass pickers seldom know how to count higher than the number of strings on their instrument. That, by the way, is why mandolin pickers tend to be the smartest in a bluegrass group, they have to count up to 8!

In 1998 he came out with a CD Lucky Break, which brought him to national attention. However, wishing to show his gratitude to the long-time favorite of bluegrass fans and pickers, in 2017 he put together the CD Thanks Mac! as a tribute to Mac Wiseman, which contains sincere covers of tunes made famous by his hero. Working with Joe Mullins, vocals, Shad Cobb and Jenny Obert, fiddlers, Marc MacGlashan, mandolin, Jeremy Stephens, 5-string banjo and Paul Kowert, he presents us with some down home bluegrass tracks.

The reviewer’s favorites are the first track, “Love Letters in the Sand,” and later tracks “Homestead on the Farm” and “We Live in Two Different Worlds.” The “sands” track harks back to another type of music sung by (pardon me) Pat Boone, but finally resonates the way it should. There are two tracks penned by Mac Wiseman, “Are you Coming Back to Me” and “’Tis Sweet to be Remembered.” Both songs ably showcase Wiseman’s writing talents and Jerry’s musicianship.

“Love Letters In The Sand”

One thing the reviewer especially liked was the subtle weaving of the various instruments and voices, so that the blend sits easily on the ear, with each player being heard, but not overdoing it—not even the banjo. That’s real bluegrass!

Thanks Jerry!, for sitting in for Mac at the National Convention of the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America when Mac could not attend due to his age. Not a bad job for a financial planner.

Ed Schaffer

Ed Schaffer started his meteoric career playing the violin at the age of 5, picked up a few other instruments thereafter, but later in life found his true love, the mandolin. Despite having a day job, his avocation of playing first classical, then high school band and chorus, then folk, then rock and eventually bluegrass music, is first in his heart.

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