Like We Used To Be

The Seldom Scene

Sugar Hill, 1994

REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones


As I have reviewed elsewhere on this site, progressive bluegrassers the Seldom Scene produced a splendid run of albums in the early to mid-‘70s with the musically and vocally impressive lineup of John Starling, John Duffey, Ben Eldridge, Mike Auldridge, and Tom Gray. But after 1978’s Baptizing, Starling left the band to return to his practice as an ear nose and throat doctor. The Scene produced a couple more quality albums with Phil Rosenthal taking Starling’s place, but through the ‘80s the band’s production was less consistent. By the 1990s, they had pulled in the very talented Lou Reid, and were forming a more cohesive sound again. Then in 1994, Starling came back.

Like We Used To Be is the reunion album that the nearly recreated lineup produced (Tom Gray had been replaced by T. Michael Coleman on bass). And it’s the only one, since Dr. Starling decided again to return to medicine after its release. While the return of Starling’s solid baritone lead singing was a welcome reminder of how good the Seldom Scene could be, this album does not contain as much of the magic that their first string of albums had. The upbeat songs are on point and show the Scene in every bit of their glory, with John Duffey’s distinctive voice and mandolin lifting songs like “Grandpa Getcha Guitar,” “She’s More To Be Pitied,” Woody Guthrie’s “Philadelphia Lawyer,” and the Stanley Brothers’ “Let Me Be Your Friend.” But the bulk of the remainder of the album consists of plodding, heavy country knockoffs such as “Like I Used To Do,” “Highway Of Pain,” “Almost Threw Your Love Away,” and “Cheap Whiskey.”  Even through Startling is singing his heart out on these lovely ballads, the slow pace makes it feel like the album is going nowhere.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

There are some memorable tracks that, despite their leisurely pace, are worth noting. “Heaven’s Green Fields” is a catchy gospel song with astoundingly gorgeous harmonies, dobro, and guitar work. Similarly, “I'll Remember You Love in My Prayers” features some excellent flatpicking guitar playing, done distinctly in the style of the Carter Family, which showcases Starling’s best vocal track of the whole album. Another great Starling vocal take is in “On The Other Side Of Town,” which gets an assist from John Duffey’s stratospheric tenor harmonies.

The reunion effort was short-lived, as Starling again headed for the exit, and sadly the Seldom Scene was soon to be forever changed. Dobroist Mike Aldridge and T. Michael Coleman left the band to form their own group, Chesapeake. Then in 1996, after the release of their next album Dream Scene, John Duffey passed away. The version of group still plays as of this writing, and Starling did return again briefly on the Smithsonian Folkways 2014 retrospective Long Time… but they would never again be like they used to be.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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