The Seldom Scene

Act Four

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Listening to The New Seldom Scene Album in 1976, it seemed clear that the original lineup of the band was running out of ideas. By Act Four in 1979, lead guitarist/singer John Starling had been replaced by Phil Rosenthal, and the Seldom Scene had moved from Rebel to Sugar Hill. The band still possessed all of the qualities that had made it one of the top bluegrass bands of the '70s: great vocals (Rosenthal and John Duffey); high-flying harmony; jazzy guitar, banjo, Dobro, and mandolin; and a solid song selection. The question was whether the Seldom Scene could reinvigorate themselves with a new member. The opener, Rosenthal's "Something in the Wind," perfectly captures the '70s penchant for moving on, while Billy Joe Shaver's "Ride Me Down Easy" sounds tailor-made for bluegrass. Rosenthal is a smoother singer than Starling and capable of delivering lightning-quick acoustic guitar solos. But while certain cuts like "Daddy Was a Railroad Man" and "Leaving Harlan" (also written by Rosenthal) are as good as anything the band ever captured on vinyl, Act Four is a notch or two below earlier recordings like Act 1 and Act Two. Act Four attests to the fact that Rosenthal did breathe new life into the band; his songs are the best material on the album. But within the context of a nearly ten-year-old concept, his impact could only go so far.

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