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Circles Around The Sun – Circles Around The Sun Meets Joe Russo

December 12, 2019

I was saddened to hear earlier this year that guitarist Neal Casal had died. I was first introduced to Casal as a member of Ryan Adams’ Cardinals era band, but I did not realize it. I finally noticed him as a member of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. I enjoyed his guitar mastery and that it complemented the song and never dominated the mix. Casal’s playing is the definition of tasteful.

A few years ago Casal had a one-off gig to compose and perform instrumental music between sets at The Grateful Dead’s “Fare Thee Well” concerts. It was such a success it became its own thing resulting in two studio albums and touring. That thing became known as Circles Around The Sun (CATS for short).

This EP is an informal studio jam. Per the label’s (Royal Potato Family) website:

California-based, psychedelic rock band Circles Around The Sun and revered drummer Joe Russo have come together for a four song EP simply entitled, ‘Circles Around The Sun Meets Joe Russo.’ The electrifying collection stems from a completely improvised recording session at The Bunker Studio in Brooklyn during Winter 2019. The results of the secret collaboration were mixed by legendary recording engineer Jim Scott whose Grammy Award-winning work includes albums by Tom Petty and Tedeschi Trucks Band and Circles Around The Sun’s bassist Dan Horne who has an impressive production/mixing discography in his own right with artists such as Cass McCombs, Allah-Las and Mapache.

The EP has a mellow vibe, and as usual, Casal’s playing is tasteful. For a set of improvised instrumental jams, this has a very composed and arranged feel. It has less of a Grateful Dead flavor than their other two albums. Instead, it has more of a 70s jazz-rock groove – it reminds me of a sedated Return To Forever. For me, keyboardist Adam MacDougall is the star of this session. He plays multiple keyboards and it feels like the rest of the band is supporting his riffs and melodies. I like that this EP has a more original sound than their first two releases and my only complaint is that it is an EP versus an LP, it is too short.

Fortunately, this will not be the last CATS album featuring Casal. I have read that the band was far enough along on another album when Casal died that they have a full album in the can. We should see that sometime in 2020.

If you are a fan of Dead-like jams and mellow (but not lite) jazz fusion, you will dig this EP.


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