REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/12/2012
After a very nontraditional Act 3, the Seldom Scene hewed much closer to the bluegrass line with 1974's Old Train. And, by this time they were no longer seldom seen as their name implies. They were a bluegrass powerhouse that was shaping the future of the genre.
While on Act 3 the group stretched their jazz and folk muscles, Old Train brings them back to a much more cohesive track list and to familiar themes. The train theme had been present in the group's first two outings and comes back with a vengeance on Old Train with the title track, "Pan American," and "C&O Canal." Their gospel performances are also perfected here and placed center stage with classic tunes that father of bluegrass Bill Monroe had done himself: "Old Crossroads," "Traveling On And On," and "Working On A Building." Interestingly, on “Working On A Building,” it is John Starling, not John Duffey, that begins with the high, lonesome vocals on the verses. It is not until the second verse that Duffey makes his formidable presence known. Starling does a good job of the high notes here, but Duffey really brings it out.
If you are listening to the honky-tonk country flavored "Through The Bottom Of A Glass" and "Old Crossroads," you may wonder who the female voice in the background vocals. That would be Linda Ronstadt, who would appear on other Seldom Scene songs as well and the Scene would also play on some of her albums. Ironically, these songs are placed back-to-back, and while “Glass” is a story of a man drowning his sorrows in the vice of drinking, “Crossroads” is a religious warning to a sinner, presumably wrapped up in similar vices, urging them to get on the straight and narrow. Both songs are beautiful, but having the two songs placed right next to each other is ironically delightful.
The standout song of Old Train, and arguably one of the best songs the group produced is “Wait A Minute.” Here the Starling/Duffey/Auldridge trio is powerful and it is hard to imagine a more evocative way to try to hold back a lover from leaving than with this song.
Old Train leaves off much of the frill and experimentation that the Scene attempted in Act 3. Strong song selection, tight vocals, and excellent instrumental precision make this album their best since Act 1 and one of the top albums from the group from this classic lineup.