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Reviews of CDs by Seldom Scene, The Jayhawks, Dropkick Murphys and Galactic

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Seldom Scene, "Seen It All" — When John Duffy died of a heart attack in December 1996, many bluegrass fans believed the Seldom Scene would disappear. Since 1971, Duffy's inimitable tenor voice, energetic mandolin style and emphatic stage presence have defined the band's characteristic folk-grass sound. But in "Scene it All," the band's first album since Duffy's death, the Seldom Scene still presides over center stage.

The album opens with a driving rendition of Muddy Water's "Rollin' and Tumblin'," in which the dobro plays an Eric Clapton guitar riff and rolls out with a chiseled-out version of Chuck Berry's "Nadine." In the mix of these blues and rock giants, "Scene it All" covers more traditional tunes such as Bill Monroe's "Blue and Lonesome" and a less noteworthy version of Bruce Springsteen's "One Step Up." Nonetheless, this latest effort is more of a hodgepodge in material than in arrangement; the style is distinct and firmly developed, particularly for a band whose members have only played together, collectively, for about three years.

"Scene it All" exhibits a kind of clarity and control that is not often heard today among flaying banjo leads, mandolin speed riffs, and flat-picking speed kings trying to catch up with Tony Rice. Yet at times, the studio polish finish could use more bluegrass dirt.

In "Scene it All" every note matters, perhaps even too much. But this latest version of Seldom Scene is well worth bending an ear to, even if you prefer the erratic late-night festival jam over the midmorning staged performance.

The Seldom Scene performs June 1 at Groovin' in the Garden at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.
— Kevin Finucane

The Jayhawks, "Smile" (Columbia) — With their first album since 1997's somber "Sound of Lies," the Jayhawks reemerge with a bright and shiny new sound and an upbeat, optimistic attitude. And while "Smile" does have a few moments of transcendent greatness with soaring harmonies, catchy pop-hooks and eminently singable choruses, "Smile" only manages to bring a halfhearted grin to the face of this Jayhawks fan.

It's clear that the Jayhawks are ready to fling off their Americana/alt-country label for good, and although I can't blame them for wanting to try something new after 15 years, they just seem to be trying too darn hard to create a radio-friendly rock sound. Take "Somewhere in Ohio" with its opening electronic drum track and its "ba-ba-bas," or "Life Floats By" with its distorted guitar riffs and hard-driving generic chorus. Not that these are bad songs, it's just that they don't showcase the Jayhawks considerable songwriting talents.

Other tracks do fare better — the gorgeously simple "Broken Harpoon" and the soaring pop melodies of "Smile" and "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" show glimmers of the Jayhawks former rootsy pop-rock sound. Still, I can't help but be a bit disappointed with this album. I'm willing to give "Smile" a few more listens, but I'll likely return to 1992's stellar "Hollywood Town Hall" or 1994's "Tomorrow the Green Grass" for a dose of the Jayhawks I know and love.
— Jessica Ronky Haddad

Dropkick Murphys, "The Singles Collection 1996-1997," (Hellcat Records) — During the past few years, Boston's Dropkick Murphys have become America's premiere street-punk outfit. They have gotten there by lacing their formula for punk rock with a healthy dose of Celtic rhythms and Irish-themed lyrics. Imagine if The Pogues had played hard-driving songs in the same style as, say, The Sex Pistols.

This new album is a compilation of the band's early 7-inch single and EP appearances. Although there is nothing new here, it's good to see these early recordings reissued, for the first time domestically.

The quintessential "Singles Collection" rounds out the discography of the band's formative years with ex-lead singer Mike McColgan at the helm. He was replaced by former Bruisers frontman Al Barr. The Dropkick Murphys have since gone on to gain notoriety and worldwide fame.

"Barroom Hero," "Front Seat" and "Road of the Righteous" are only three of the many youthful anthems that are pervasive on the album. They even include their repertoire of cover songs, from the obscure "I've Had Enough" by Slapshot, to the not-so-obscure "Career Opportunities" and "Guns Of Brixton" by The Clash. We are then treated to a sizeable live performance portion at the end of the CD.
— Angelo DeFranzo

Galactic, "Late for the Future," (Capricorn) — New Orleans funk band Galactic decided to go for an upfront, mass-appeal sound for their third CD through the use of more vocals, effects and guitar than on past efforts. This sonic blast of danceable grooves kicks from the get-go. Moving saxophone, guitars and keyboards dodge and weave above the heavy bass and drum bottom that anchors Galactic's sound. Add to this the occasional down-and-dirty vocals of Theryl "Houseman" de Clouet, and you've got 14 heavy, good-time tunes that demand listeners slip on their dancing shoes. The band founders started playing together in Washington, but as "Future" bears aural witness, these guys have flourished in their adopted Crescent City home after a few short years. This is no mean feat in a town where bands such as the Meters and Chocolate Milk set the funk standards back in the mid-'70s. But Galactic manages to play with the punch and syncopation of those early bands, while modernizing the groove with its own twists. This one will sound best when played loud in a room full of party hounds just as the sun is coming up.
— Ames Arnold

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