Al Scorch‘s Circle Round the Signs combines country-rave-up fervor, frantic banjo playing, and an assured sense of melody that creates one of the most immediate, electric offerings I’ve heard all year.
Opener “Pennsylvania Turnpike” is a madcap 2:21 that feels even shorter than that, as Scorch blazes his way through the tune with barely-contained abandon. If you miss the ragged, rowdy first four Avett Brothers records, you’ll have found a new best friend by the time that “Everybody Out” makes it to your ears: Scorch’s unhinged voice manages to make klezmer music even more vital than it already intrinsically is. (Potentially because this klezmer outfit contains a bone-rattling banjo.) If you’re not convinced, the wild, staccato, who-cares-about-time-signatures center of “Want One” could not be closer to a lost Mignonette song–in the best way possible. It pains me a little to think how many banjo strings Scorch goes through. (But only a little–never change.)
Scorch does have a balladeer hiding inside himself: “Lonesome Low” is a swaying singalong with female vocals and an unforgettable vocal melody, while “City Lullaby” is exactly what it sounds like. And these songs are definitely great, but it’s the rocket-speed approach to songwriting that is the real treasure here. After the ballads, we get “Slipknot” (an old-time band on uppers) and closer “Love After Death” (an album highlight that combines his frantic approach with a real sense of loss over friends that have died). Scorch can slow down, but he’s at his best when he’s blazing. If you’re into any sort of acoustic music, this is a must-hear. Highly recommended.