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Circles Around The Sun – Let It Wander

August 18, 2018

First off this is one badass cover. You can’t appreciate it in a photo, you got to feel it – hold it and stare at it.  Subtle and elegant.

I have been anticipating this release. I was late to the party for their 2015 debut. It was a Grateful Dead, specifically Jerry inspired, meditation. I wanted to be the first guy on the block to hear the sophomore album – would it be a step forward or disaster? It is a step forward.

The background on the band is that in 2015 the remaining members of the Grateful Dead put on a set of mega concerts called Fare Thee Well.  Neal Casal (Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Ryan Adams, etc.) was asked by the concert’s video director, Justin Kreutzmann, to compose and record more than five hours of original music to be played along with the visuals Kreutzmann was preparing for the Fare Thee Well intermissions.

Casal pulled together a studio band of keyboardist Adam MacDougall (a fellow member of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood), bassist Dan Horne (Beachwood Sparks and Jonathan Wilson) and drummer Mark Levy (The Congress).  They basically improved/jammed in the studio and came up with some Dead inspired instrumentals.

Casal assumed it was a one time project and did not expect anything to come of it.  The music captured the audience’s attention and became a minor sensation in the Deadhead world.  Casal ended up releasing an album and touring with Circles Around the Sun – AKA CATS.  It was enough of “a thing” that the band was motivated to create a second album.

Where the first album has a strong Dead feel, this new album is not a full on departure, but it is a significant evolution.  It still has a improvisational jam band feel, but feels more composed and tighter.  This album seems inspired by the jazzy side of Jerry, but it just uses that as a launching point. The band took their original raison d’être and left it in the dust.  This is full on jazz/rock/funk/fusion.

Casal’s playing is amazing – he plays in several tones and styles.  The same guys are in the band as the last album, but now they really sound like a band.  The rhythm section puts down a rock solid foundation and Casel’s guitar and MacDougall’s keyboards engage in a fascinating conversation.  I hear so many references: The Dead and Jerry Garcia solo of course, but also Bitches Brew era Miles, Pink Floyd, 70s jazz fusion (the L.A. Express and Return To Forever came to mind particularly), Santana, etc. Garcia did a lot of cool stuff outside the Dead and my favorite is the jazz fusion.  I assume Casal and the boys dig that stuff too.

This CATS album sounds like a real band with it own personality and voice.  As much as I loved the debut, it was very much a tribute to the Dead and Jerry.  CATS is now very much its “own thing.”  I appreciate they felt the need to evolve the concept, it would have been easy to milk the original concept.

“More than anything, what you hear on this album is a band growing into its own sound,” Casal says.

Kudos to Rhino Records for the high quality pressing, the LP sounds great.

This is going to be one of my favorite albums of 2018.  Somebody needs to make a movie just to use this album as a soundtrack.  I have not fully digested the LP yet, so you might hear a follow up post.  My favorite feature of the album is how funky it is.

I would love to see these guys live, but they have a pretty limited tour schedule given they have full time jobs in other bands.  For now you will have to settle for You Tube.


From → Music Reviews

  1. I’m going to get into this right now. Thanks.

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