John Starling and Carolina Star

Slidin' Home

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John Starling was a founding member of the Seldom Scene, so his bluegrass credentials are unimpeachable. The singer and guitarist left in the late '70s, only to return in the early '90s and then leave again a year later. His frustration with the band's increasingly slicker sound led him to go solo in order to return to the rootsier sound he preferred, but the big news for fans of the early Seldom Scene is that he's reunited with fellow ex-Scenesters Mike Auldridge (Resophonic steel guitar) and bassist Tom Gray to form Carolina Star. Not surprisingly, this is the real deal, bluegrass as it was meant to be played. That's not to imply that Slidin' Home aims to re-create the ambience of an old Bill Monroe record; this is a crisp-sounding, modern recording, but the music was cut live in the studio -- no gimmicks, no nothin', just good pickin' and great harmonizing. As if to make the point early, Starling and the group kick it off with Jimmie Rodgers' "Waitin' for a Train," as iconic a piece of American acoustic music as there is. The rest of the repertoire comes from a variety of sources ranging from Lowell George (the oft-covered but never tiring "Willin'") to Gillian Welch to Gram Parsons. And yes, that is the voice of Emmylou Harris joining in on the Parsons tune, "In My Hour of Darkness." Starling's voice is still clear as a bell and the musicians know precisely what they need to do to keep things comfy and lively here. In George Massenburg, who's worked with such heavyweights as Frank Sinatra and Linda Ronstadt as well as the Seldom Scene, they couldn't have found a more skilled and sympathetic producer. Those who worship at the altar of acousticity will be right at home with Slidin' Home.

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