Reviews

Al Scorch: Circle Round The Signs

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By Brian Rock

From the very first notes of Al Scorch’s new album, Circle Round The Signs, it’s abundantly clear that this is not your grandfather’s Bluegrass. Sure there’s plenty of banjo and fiddle to go around. But Al scorches the strings at full throttle and turns the amps to eleven. Like accidently playing an old Bill Monroe album with your turntable set at 45rpm, the music is frantic, frenetic, but somehow familiar.

Al’s journey begins on, “Pennsylvania Turnpike.” Definitely driving in the passing lane, Al sings, “…every time it got weird, every time it got bad, for every emptied out, hollowed out feeling I had; in my mind, I could always go back – to a thumbs out on the side of the road, shoulders under heavy load, outrunning the night on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.” Caught between worlds, the lyrics yearn for a simpler time while the music careens full spread ahead into an uncertain future.

“Lost At Sea” continues the lonesome and forlorn lyrics that define Bluegrass. But again Al surprises musically. This time he adds a little Cajun spice temp, complete with accordion accompaniment.

“Everybody Out” is a boisterous, Squirrel Nut Zippers – inspired jazz groove.

“Insomnia” channels the energy of “Wait So Long” by Trampled By Turtles. With a deceptively mellow intro, Al sings, “Still awake at sunrise…” musically mimicking the fatigue of a sleepless night. Then midway through the song, the tempo explodes as Al sings, “I toss and I turn in my bed every night. I’m sober but my mind’s as high as a kite.” The schizophrenic tempo of the song perfectly matches the real frustrations of those insomniacs who are tired all day and wired all night.

Scorch does pay homage to more traditional Bluegrass with the ballads, “Lonesome Low,” “Love After Death,” the Avett Brothers – influenced, “City Lullaby,” and “Poverty Draft.” Even here though, Scorch manages to surprise with a lilting, French horn playing softly in the background.

But returning more to form, Al scorches through “Want One.” Playing banjo like a lead guitar in a rock anthem, Al plays fast and hard with a surprising staccato strum for the chorus. Singing about the futility of pill addiction, he confesses, “When I want one, I will take one. When I need two, I will take three… when I get to the bottom, I am incomplete.”

On the cover, “Slipknot,” Al does for Woody Guthrie what Social Distortion does for Johnny Cash on “Ring of Fire.” Which is to say, he lights it up.

From start to finish, Circle Round The Signs is kick-ass Bluegrass that’s downright dangerous and dangerously addictive. This is quite simply, the best banjo and fiddle album I’ve heard in a long while.

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TJ Admin

It’s Gonzo Journalism meets Outlaw Country as TJ Music Magazine – Turnstyled, Junkpiled shakes things up in the Sin City and beyond. “Waiting for the day when they stop calling it Americana and start calling it Country again.”
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