Always In Style: A Collection

John Duffey

Sugar Hill Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


There is a certain mentality that says if you're going to spend your life doing something, do one thing and do it well. It's plain from the liner notes of Always In Style that the late John Duffey did one thing very, very well. John Duffey played bluegrass, and in the words of bluegrass historian and writer Dick Spottswood, "he was a bloody genius".

Indeed. Those five words summarize it, pretty damn well. Duffey was a brilliant mandolin player, a brilliant vocalist, and a keen musical mind. Always In Style is a look back on his long career with two seminal modern bluegrass bands, the Country Gentlemen and the Seldom Scene, covering from the mid nineteen-sixties all the way up until Duffey's death in 1996. Sugar Hill has brought out what is in effect the definitive history of one of bluegrass' great musicians.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The sound of this recording is excellent. Engineering and production are minimal, so as to bring out the clear sound of the music, even to the point of hearing string buzz and echoes on the mandolin playing. One of the biggest pitfalls in engineering any acoustic music is to sanitize the personality out of it, but producer Fred Jasper and remastering engineer David Glasser avoid that pitfall completely. Always In Style is a joy to listen to from an audiophile's viewpoint, pure and simple.

Duffey's performances are, plain and simple, jewels. His arching tenor, almost a counter-tenor, is sparkling, with notable performances on "I Haven't Got The Right To Love You" and "Let Mother Nature Have Her Way" being truly outstanding examples of bluegrass vocals. (How in the HECK do those guys sing that high?) As for his mandolin - well, the liner notes tell stories of how Duffey preferred singing to mandolin playing and rarely, if ever, practiced mandolin off-stage. As someone who plays a string instrument, albeit fumblingly, I think if he wasn't dead I'd have to smack him. If his mandolin sounded that good without practice, I'm jealous.

My sole complaint with this album involves, of all things, how Sugar Hill is marketing it. Their web site claims that Duffey is the first person to 'put a modern spin on traditional bluegrass'. That may be so, but Always In Style is not newgrass or fusion or anything other than traditional, Bill Monroe-style bluegrass. (One cover of Eric Clapton's "After Midnight" in flatpicking style does not a newgrass CD make, though damn, it's a lot of fun to listen to).

A minor quibble, though. For the bluegrass fan, for the traditional music enthusiast, or just as an introduction to Americana music, Always In Style is, indeed, definitely in style.

Rating: A-

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© 2001 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sugar Hill Records, and is used for informational purposes only.