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John Starling And Carolina Star
Slidin' Home

Review By Steven Stone
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  Back in the 1970's and 1980's anyone who was a hardcore bluegrass fan would make the trip down (or up) to the Birchmere club in Virginia to see and hear the Seldom Scene. This was the equivalent of a trip to Mecca for the bluegrass faithful. John Starling was the band's lead singer between 1971 and 1977, and he rejoined the group in the early 1990's till it finally disbanded in the late 1990's. His soulful leads and duets with the late mandolinist John Duffy set the standard for progressive bluegrass bands. On his new album, Slidin' Home, Seldom Scene alumni Mike Auldridge and Tom Gray join Starling to recreate the magic and expand upon Seldom Scene's legacy.

Unlike many "solo" albums Slidin' Home is very much an ensemble effort. Jon Randall adds vocals and mandolin, Richie Simpkins plays fiddle, Kent Ippolito plays mandolin and guitar, Emmylou Harris sings harmony vocals, Jimmy Gaudreau plays mandolin and sings harmony vocals, Larry Stephenson plays mandolin and sings harmony vocals, and Jay Starling plays piano. Material was drawn from a wide range of sources, including songs by Jimmie Rodgers, Gram Parsons, Gillian Welch, Lowell George, and instrumentals from Ricky Skaggs and Rickie Simpkins. Starling's reading of Gram Parson's "In My Hour of Darkness" can't fail to strike you square in the heart. His lyrical pacing wrings the maximum emotional impact out of any song without sliding into showboating sentimentality. Starling makes great use of his harmony vocalists, demonstrating the same sensitivity to phrasing that made his duos with John Duffy great. Lowell George's "Willin'" has been recorded by many artists, but rarely done as well as the original version. Starling's rendition is every bit as powerful as George's, due in large part to his vocals and Mike Aldridge's stunning slide guitar solo.

The CD was co-produced by renowned producer and engineer George Massenburg, who's worked with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Linda Ronstadt, Lyle Lovett, and James Taylor. Massenburg adds little by the way of gimmicky "studio magic." Instead he relies on simplicity and purity. The end result is music that sounds superb. Most of songs were recorded as complete takes using a live approach where everyone played together in the same studio at the same time. Massenburg notes, "For this project, we felt that modern recording techniques, a good acoustic environment, and practice prior to, not on, the recording day could make the process fun for everybody."

Slidin' Home seems destined to be one of those albums that rank as an instant classic. It demonstrates there's no substitute for the musical "chemistry" of mature musicians who have spent many years playing together, sympathetically recorded by an engineer with good ears and instincts.

 

 

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