Swing music is alive
and well, and our friend the electric mandolin has found a small but
comfortable home in the genre, thanks to players like northern Ohio’s Seth
“SethRo” Rosen. RU•Crazy, the new CD from Seth’s trio,
Crazy Rhythm, is the second recent disc to feature his 1959 Epiphone
electric (the other is Suspended Alive at the Spider by his
quintet, the Suspenders).
Whereas the Suspenders play traditional American
swing and jump blues and do a lot of original tunes, Crazy Rhythm sticks
to classics and covers, and favors an amalgam of Western—à la Bob Wills
or Johnny Gimble—and European “Hot
Club” styles of swing. The arrangements showcase the great fiddling of
Jim Kelley, but there’s plenty of room for SethRo to get some licks in,
either on the electric or his acoustic 1986 Flatiron A5.
Seth’s acoustic playing is exemplary,
particularly on the instrumentals “Jersey Bounce” and “Dinah.” On
the latter tune, Seth allows himself to stretch out a bit more than he
does anywhere on the Suspenders CD. That is, he plays a longer break and
takes more musical chances, but still keeps things intense and
interesting. Things really start to cook when he and Kelley begin “trading
But it’s the Epiphone we’re really interested
in here. It’s from the days when Epiphone was a real instrument company,
not just a Gibson brand name for imports. The instrument closely resembles
the Gibson EM150s of the same period—it’s an A-style, F-hole
hollowbody mandolin with a four-pole P-90–style pickup. Like Gimble,
Seth strings the Epiphone in single courses; unlike Gimble, he uses
standard GDAE tuning.
The Epiphone spices up "Old Cowhand"
and "I'll Keep On Loving You," and provides a nice foil to
Kelley’s lap steel playing on “Texas Blues.” And on “Cowtown”
you’ll hear what may be a first in the history of Western swing music:
twin electric mandolins! Kelley picks alongside SethRo on a StewMac
5-string (tuned down a fifth to FCGDA). Seth reports that he and Kelley
play at least one tune in this configuration every time they do a gig.
The group enlists bass (John Gallo), drums (Scott
Flowers), and keys (Robin Montgomery) on most tunes, and Barb Withee holds
it all together with some tight rhythm guitar. She and Kelley handle most
of the vocals, although SethRo does take the microphone for “That’s
What I Like About the South” and “I Can’t Believe You’re in Love
with Me,” sounding a lot like Carl Martin. On the whole, RU•Crazy
is everything a swing recording should be—enjoyable, romantic,
danceable, lighthearted, with stellar musicianship all around.
If all this sounds like fun to you, e-mail Kelley
for information on ordering RU•Crazy by mail.