The New Seldom Scene Album
REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/19/2012
The New Seldom Scene Album is one of those albums that is hard to categorize or even to rate. It almost sounds as if the group was unsure of what direction to go in after several successful albums, including a critically acclaimed live album in 1975 Live At The Cellar Door. Because of this, the Scene switch uneasily between songs that sound like they were meant for country radio and traditional bluegrass.
“Big Rig,” written by Jimmy Buffett harmonica man Greg “Fingers” Taylor is the opening track and starts the chaotic back and forth. This song, also recorded by Buffett in the same year, does not have the feel or emotion of a bluegrass song, and thus seems like a tongue-in-cheek joke that the band is having amongst themselves at their audience’s expense. This is immediately followed by the Stanley Brothers classic “If That's The Way You Feel,” played with the grace and tradition that should be afforded such a classic. Yet this three minute visit with classic bluegrass is short-lived, because “Easy Ride From Good Times To The Blues” is for all intents and purposes a standard 1970s country song, complete with pedal steel guitar and drums. This oscillation continues for several tracks without a rest.
The strongest song of the country flavored tracks (and one of the best on the album) is “California Earthquake,” which was written by country songwriter Rodney Crowell. The haunting melody, historic subject material, and harmony vocals contributed by Linda Ronstadt combine into one powerful song. Yet aside from “Earthquake” the country stylings fall flat. Thank goodness the album is buoyed by the straight bluegrass numbers. Along with “If That's The Way You Feel,” John Duffey’s adulterous missive "I Haven't Got the Right to Love You," and “Rebels Ye Rest” are the best of the album on the bluegrass side.
While the jolting back and forth is enough to cause sonic whiplash for the listener, each song is extremely well done with great vocals and musical flares that establish the Seldom Scene as a benchmark bluegrass group. The country sounds come up short mainly because they are not strong songs, while the more traditional songs hold together better. Had the group decided to do an entirely country offering, the result may have been out of sync for their bluegrass fans but may have ultimately been more cohesive.