The Seldom Scene

Scene It All

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With the gradual departure of most of its original members and the sudden and untimely death of mandolinist/singer/founder John Duffey in late 1996, one might forgive the Seldom Scene if it had just given up the ghost. But instead, the sole remaining original member (banjoist Ben Eldridge) gathered some of the more recent participants around him (guitarist Dudley Connell, mandolinist Lou Reid, bassist Ronnie Simpkins, and Dobro player Fred Travers) and made one of the better Seldom Scene albums of the last 20 years. The band's reputation as a "progressive" bluegrass band remains intact, though now with a tighter focus: no synthesizers, no electric instruments. But the unusual song selections are still there, from Bruce Springsteen's "One Step Up" to Muddy Waters' "Rollin' and Tumblin'" and the Chuck Berry chestnut "Nadine." As it turns out, those are not the album's high points. Although the band's rendition of "Rollin' and Tumblin'" works very well, the Springsteen tune doesn't sit very comfortably in its arrangement, and "Nadine" is a disaster -- the banjo has to play painfully slowly to support the song's rhythm. But the Bill Monroe ("Blue and Lonesome") and Jim & Jesse ("I Will Always Be Waiting for You") numbers are standouts, and the funky bluegrass gospel of "You Better Get Right" is also superb. Maybe it's time for the Seldom Scene to go "acid grass" for good.

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