For almost 30 years, the Seldom Scene has been the Gold Standard for taste, imagination and innovation in bluegrass music. But the band’s identity was so strongly tied to the immense genius of John Duffey that, with his sudden passing in 1996, there was a legitimate question as to whether the band would, could or should continue without him. I’m here to tell you that Scene It All is vintage Seldom Scene.
It would have been impossible to duplicate Duffey’s influence on the band. They haven’t tried and as a result, Scene It All is much more of an ensemble effort. As anyone who has seen the band’s recent live performances would tell you, all of the crucial Scene elements are here – imaginative arrangements, impeccable harmonies and top-notch treatments of a whole range of songs. There are bluegrass standards, including a macho version of Blue and Lonesome, obscure originals like Dusty (written by a friend of dobro player Fred Travers) and a bundle of tunes adapted from outside bluegrass.
Deserving special mention on Scene It All are three masterpieces which should join the long list of Scene landmarks – Travers’ breathtaking rendering of From This Moment On, and Dudley Connell’s stellar versions of Bob Dylan’s Boots of Spanish Leather and Bruce Springsteen’s One Step Up. They are as good as anything the Scene has ever recorded. The Scene’s legendary imagination and humor are fully intact, as evidenced by Rollin’ and Tumblin’ and a slightly smirking version of Chuck Berry’s Nadine.
Connell and Ronnie Simpkins lay down a rock-solid bluegrass rhythm pocket and Ben Eldridge contributes some of his strongest banjo work to date. Travers’ spectacular dobro playing continues to evoke the image of Mike Auldridge without ever sounding derivative and Eldridge’s teenage son Chris even contributes a tasteful guitar break on When The Walls Come Tumblin’ Down.
Lou Reid deserves a special mention. It is almost unimaginable that someone could step into the mandolin spot that John Duffey dominated for so many years, but Reid’s earlier tenure with the band seems to have given him a special feel for the job. Without a conscious effort to sing and play like Duffey, he fills the position better than anyone has a right to expect. There was no way to replace the Big Guy, but no one could have done it any better than Reid has.
This is a special recording by a very special band. Get a copy, put it on and let it run until your player clicks off on its own. There are surprises everywhere.