REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/26/2012
The Seldom Scene’s all gospel record, Baptizing, marks the end of the “classic” lineup of the group. John Starling was about to leave to return to his medical practice full time, and Phil Rosenthal, who would soon take Starling’s place completely, is incorporated as a full member of the band on this album. Despite the looming departure of such a notable sounding lead singer, the group did well to add Rosenthal prior to this change to smooth out the transition. The resulting album should be ranked as one of the best bluegrass gospel collections ever produced.
The song selections on Baptizing are decidedly traditional, with the group choosing to sing bluegrass gospel more in the vein of Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs and the Stanleys, rather than veering towards country music as they had done on their previous studio album. Plus, a rocking version of Albert E. Brumley’s “By The Side Of The Road” opens the album and gives the Scene their strongest album opener since “Raised By The Railroad Line” from Act 1. The addition of Phil Rosenthal also gave the group a more prolific songwriter, and he contributes three originals to the project which sit well alongside the traditionals and classics. In fact, “Take Him In” and “Walk With Him Again” are just as powerful as the Hank Williams penned classic “Will You Be Ready To Go Home.”
The vocal trio of Starling, Duffey, and Auldridge is still pristine on “Dreaming Of A Little Cabin,” which is a good song as far as sappy mother-themed songs go. “Fallen Leaves” and “He Took Your Place” are both stellar vocally and musically. But the real cream of the crop on this album is a nearly a capella version of “Were You There?” I say “nearly a capella” because the guitar comes in softly and almost sneaks into the song after the first a cappella verse, and continues softly through the song before having a mandolin solo slap you in the face during a break between verses. John Duffey’s lead vocals are emotive and he launches into the heavens with his high lead on the chorus. This song has been done by many artists and can be over-produced or dripping in syrupy sweet vibrato and staged emotion. This version tops them all and with its simple delivery prevents itself from being a caricature of religious music as other versions have done.
This album is excellent for several reasons: song selection, performance, and an excellent transition piece for a band that was losing a founding member and a strong lead vocalist. This album is one of the go-to examples for bluegrass gospel.