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Circles Around the Sun

Last updated on November 20, 2020

The flow of music from Neal Casal comes back to Circles Around the Sun, the self-titled third album that will be his last. Almost all fans of Casal understood that Casal wanted to hear Circles Around the Sun completed after his death by suicide. The seven tracks work in an integrated, enmeshed jazz groove made possible via the stellar musicianship of keyboardist Adam MacDougall, drummer Mark Levy, bassist Dan Horne, and engineer Jim Scott at Southern Life.

“Babyman” reminds listeners to sit back and chill: this is a jam band experience, like an ocean of sonic waves. Defining this collection of freeform jazz-infused flashbacks to the Grateful Dead’s eclectic mixture seems almost counterproductive–even possibly offensive–to the maniacal compositions. Among the cuts, “Leaving,” with its otherworldly guitar chord progressions woven into an array of instrumentation, seems obvious yet genius all at the same time. “You Got To Start Somewhere” brings that slow, sexy groove mashed up with jam-band brilliance. The most meaningful aspect of Circles Around the Sun could be how the band’s instrumental sound raises shared awareness. In many ways, this album may be the final recordings of one of rock’s great guitarists.

Neal Casal made his desire for Circles Around the Sun to live beyond his death known. Living beyond the music, Casal’s legacy carries on, framed with McDougall’s keyboards, the backline of Levy’s drums and Horne’s bass. Listening to the opening track with Casal’s final performances looming, one cannot begin to fathom what treasures had yet to be discovered. CATS lovers may all want and need closure, and that closure may begin with something as simple as celebrating this unconventional, expansive, cinematic sound.–Lisa Whealy