An impressive collection from a bluegrass veteran
By Chris Cooper
It’s not unusual in music circles for one’s sound to be recognizable but the name to be mostly unknown. Such is the case for bluegrass veteran Curly Seckler.
Seckler has played, toured and/or recorded with Charlie Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, and Flatt & Scruggs, among others. His career has spanned some 70 years, interrupted briefly by a foray into the trucking business in the mid-60s. He’s one of the most respected tenors in bluegrass, yet the name Seckler still doesn’t roll off the tongue as quickly as the names of his musical partners.
That Old Book Of Mine is a collection of tunes from two of his albums: Curly Seckler Sings Again (from 1971) and his collaboration with Willis Spears, Tribute to Lester Flatt, recorded in 1989. It should be noted that several of the Seckler/Flatt penned tunes appearing on That Old Book Of Mine have become standards in the bluegrass canon, which is no small feat in itself.
Seckler’s talent as a harmony singer has become the standard for other vocalists to follow, and it’s quite interesting to listen to an album by an artist that doesn’t always feature him in the lead role. In fact, more than half of the CD has Seckler singing harmony to either Billy Edwards or Willis Spears. It’s his prowess in performing as part of a unit and as a leader that has afforded Seckler such a long career.
But really one of the most interesting things about this album is the opportunity to hear songs recorded so many years apart. The first two songs on the CD are from the 1971 album, and track three jumps ahead almost 20 years to the Flatt tribute album from 1989. The differences in production are the most striking with the more recent tracks drenched in reverb, compared to the timelessness (and simplicity) of earlier recordings. Those songs recorded in 1971 could’ve just as easily been laid down in the 1940’s — the authenticity is present in abundance.
That Old Book Of Mine is a kind of retrospective on the career of a living part of bluegrass history. It’s a treat to hear the band (especially fiddler Tater Tate) burn through “Salty Dog Blues” in all its lo-fi glory, and Seckler’s leaps into falsetto on “You Took My Sunshine” really couldn’t be more high and lonesome. Though the production values are a bit jarring from track to track, it’s a minor discomfort in light of having all this music collected in one volume.
Fans of bluegrass, especially those only familiar with the newer crop of groups, owe it to themselves to seek out this disc. Not only is it a documentation of a lesser known local boy done good (Seckler was born in China Grove, N.C., way back in 1915); it’s also a 16-song time capsule of an artist’s commitment to his craft and a documentation of the way this music has been recorded and presented over the years.