October 2007

Seldom Scene - Scenechronized
Sugar Hill SUG-CD-4003
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

A bluegrass institution, the Seldom Scene presents vocal harmonies as close to perfect as any, lead vocals artistically restrained and expressive, instrumental virtuosity and polish, and one of the genre’s more interesting play lists. In addition to typical bluegrass and country tunes, they’ve covered James Taylor, John Fogerty, and other "outsiders." Now, on Scenechronized, their first album since 2000, we hear Fogerty’s "A Hundred and Ten in the Shade," Scott Boyer’s "Please Be with Me" made famous by Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan’s "Tomorrow Is a Long Time."

On Sidney Campbell’s "This Morning at Nine," Carter Stanley’s "Sweetest Love," and Donna Hughes’ "Sad Old Train," they show their talent for galloping without getting breathless or shrill. Ben Eldridge’s masterful banjo pickin’ and Ronnie Simpkins’ solid stand-up bass drive ‘em forward. Their beautifully blended, perfectly paced lilting harmonies grab at the heart in "Please Be with Me," John Duffey and Ann Hill’s "Don’t Bother with White Satin," and the traditional "Katie Dear," with its silver-dagger-to-ward-off-suitors theme. They pierce the heart with their shimmering refrain in David Norris’s classic "Heart and Soul."

Guitar, mandolin and Dobro solos, while crisp, succinct and musically appropriate, could explore further. This mountain of talent wouldn’t collapse if some new veins didn’t totally pan out -- and the magic might be enhanced. It certainly is by the recording and mixing quality, which showcase the band’s array of fine acoustic instruments and make the vocals a clear, vibrant presence.

‘Grass lovers will delight in this album; newcomers will want to hear more, for sure.