REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/05/2012
The Seldom Scene's third album, appropriately named Act 3, shows the band continuing to polish their style of playing bluegrass that isn't always supposed to be bluegrass. While Act 3 doesn't quite rise to the level that its two predecessors reached, it does contain some interesting oddities and flourishes that make it worthwhile.
Of all things, the album starts out with a short instrumental rendition of "Chim Chim Cheree" from the classic movie, Mary Poppins. This is probably the strangest kick off track to a bluegrass album ever. As if to emphasize this clash of musical styles, the Scene follow up this little descending minor ditty with the classic Bill Monroe bluegrass tune "Little Georgia Rose." Oil and water don't mix, but if you shake them together vigorously they will float together for a few seconds. That appears to be what the Scene are doing here – shaking things up.
Another oddity on the album is a bluegrass instrumental version of the Washington Redskins fight song "Hail To The Redskins." Why? To fill time, and because they are from the D.C., to pay homage to their hometown football team. "Mean Woman Blues" is a song with a barrage of lyrics that also includes a bass solo, something common in jazz quintets, but not so much in bluegrass ones.
Act 3 also contains two songs from a songwriter, Phil Rosenthal, who in five years time would actually join the band, first sharing lead vocal duties with John Starling and then on his own once Starling left the band to focus again on his “real job” as a surgeon. “Muddy Water” and “Willie Boy” both showcase the excellent vocal quality that Starling contributed to the Scene, and foreshadowed what would come with Rosenthal’s ascension. Also on the vocal front, the lone gospel track “Heaven” has John Duffey doing an incredibly high lead vocal on the chorus that from anyone else could be a screeching mess, but Duffey performs with ease. It is also worth listening to the use of reverb on this track and on some of the other tracks as well. On Duffey’s vocals and on Auldridge’s dobro solos, producer Gary Reid and the mixing team use reverb almost as another instrument, making Duffey’s high notes hang in the air and Auldridge’s sometimes punchy dobro solos soften a bit.
Act 3 is almost schizophrenic in its nature with its odd balls and alternating fast/slow track listing. This makes the album have trouble holding together. But the non-traditional song choices are broadening the group’s reach, and keeps with their pattern of introducing songs to the bluegrass genre that generally had not been considered before.