The Seldom Scene held a pivotal position in the early- to mid-'70s bluegrass scene. The group's bluegrass style and song choices was more progressive than Bill Monroe's but never so adventurous as the New Grass Revival. In essence, the Seldom Scene split the difference, but thanks to the group's harmony, instrumental prowess, and John Starling's and John Duffey's lead vocals, this never sounded like a watered-down compromise. Almost any songs collected from the Seldom Scene's first seven albums would have made a solid collection, so it's easy to predict that Different Roads is a winner without even listening to it. David Freeman points out in the liner notes that the collection includes three of the band's most requested songs, "Wait a Minute," "Old Train," and "Easy Ride from Good Times to the Blues," and there are great takes on Paul Craft's "Keep Me from Blowing Away" and Norman Blake's "Last Train from Poor Valley." The tracking jumbles chronological order, but since the Seldom Scene's arrangements were the same with minor exceptions during this period (1973-1976), it all flows as a piece. The album, at almost 42 minutes, is short, but it still contains 14 prime cuts from one of the best newgrass bands. Different Roads is a good introduction to the Seldom Scene in its first and arguably best configuration, a collection that will hopefully lead the listener to seek out the band's first seven albums.
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Pioneering giants of progressive, or urban, bluegrass, the Seldom Scene's original lineup (John Starling on rhythm guitar, John Duffey on mandolin, Mike Auldridge on dobro, Ben Eldridge on banjo, and Tom Gray on bass) worked the thriving Maryland/D.C./Virginia corridor in the early '70s, sparking new interest in bluegrass even as they retooled it by embracing young songwriters from other genres and adding new instruments (Ricky Skaggs plays viola on the moody, John Starling-penned title track, and Mark Cuff adds propulsive drums to Herb Perderson's brisk "Easy Ride from Good Times to the Blues," which also features pedal steel). Culled from the group's first seven albums for the Rebel label, this retrospective CD serves as a vivid reminder of how exciting those early progressive days were, when there seemed to be no shortage of great young musicians joining the fray and the always-expansive bluegrass repertoire was growing exponentially with every new musical trend. The balance here is between the old and the new. The group tackle pop-country balladry as defined by Eddy Arnold's "Walk Through This World with Me" -- with a beautiful tenor lead by John Duffey and complementary, heart-tugging dobro -- plus three of the aforementioned Herb Pederson's earliest songs, including the yearning breakup lament "Wait a Minute." In Duffy and Starling, the Scene had two gifted vocalists; in Auldridge, they had an instrumental giant who honored the groundbreaking work of Flatt & Scruggs' "Uncle Josh" Graves but brought his own vibrant vision in establishing the dobro as a legitimate voice in the bluegrass world. Words hardly do justice to the life in this music - just listen.