Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Seldom Scene - Change of Scenery (1988)

This album is called Change of Scenery because Lou Reid had recently replaced Phil Rosenthal on lead vocals and guitar and T. Michael Coleman had even more recently replaced founding member Tom Gray on bass. This change in lineup resulted in a different vocal sound, though the band was still anchored by John Duffey’s unmistakable high tenor vocals. The change in bass players was quite noticeable, particularly in live performance, because unlike Tom Gray, T. Michael played an electric bass. Like its predecessor At the Scene, this album has a slightly country feel to it, with the inclusion of drums on several tracks and the somewhat slick (by bluegrass standards) production. Both albums also feature a considerable amount of lead guitar playing.

Over all, I think this relatively short-lived change in lineup was a decent thing for the band, as Change of Scenery has more adrenaline and basically sounds fresher than At the Scene. Lou Reid turns in a stellar vocal performance and this album showcases his considerable talent without being overbearing. Sometimes in live performance, Lou will oversing certain lines and shout when he is in his upper vocal register. He thankfully doesn’t do any of that here, perhaps because Duffey is around to fill in the necessary gaps with his gorgeous harmony singing. While Lou fit the band vocally as well as Phil ever did, neither of these guys complemented the other voices in the band quite like original front man John Starling.

Highlights on Change of Scenery for me are “West Texas Wind,” “What Goes On,” and the opening track “Breaking New Ground.” “West Texas Wind” is essentially a country song with bluegrass instruments but the lyrics are memorable and the melody is really nice. I think this might be the best song Lou Reid ever sang with the Seldom Scene. The Beatles’ “What Goes On” works surprisingly well in a bluegrass context, but maybe that’s because John Duffey sings lead on this one. Finally, “Breaking New Ground” is a great opener because it launches out of the gate and the listener immediately feels the excitement of the change in lineup.

AMG Rating: ***
My Rating: ***

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