Circles Around The Sun – Interludes For The Dead – Rhino

by | Feb 1, 2016 | Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

Circles Around The Sun – Interludes For The Dead – Rhino Records R2 552376 (2-CD), TT: 135:08 ****:

Between Dead set of filler music is also a long strange trip.

(Neal Casal – guitar; Adam MacDougall – keyboards; Dan Horne – bass; Marl Levy – drums)

The Grateful Dead were unique for their live performances. Due to the advanced sound equipment and phenomenal communal sentiment, no rock band approached the length or “spaciness” of these shows. Founded in Palo Alto in the mid-1960’s The Grateful Dead achieved prominence as the house band for Ken Kesey’s Acid Test. They were the embodiment of counterculture, and grew to icons under the leadership of guitarist Jerry Garcia. His death in 1995 effectively terminated the band, although there have been various regroupings of former members. The “live” history of the band is beyond legend. The Dead actually let their fans make “bootleg” tapes of their concerts. Incredibly this Hippie, space-jam outfit became a bona fide industry with merchandise. New products, reunion tours and weirdness have kept them in the limelight.

One of the “side” projects is a 2-CD collection of intermission music. Justin Kreutzman (son of Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzman) had created the visuals for the Fare Thee Well tour. He asked Neal Casal (who along with keyboardist Adam MacDougall were part-time members of Phil Lesh and Friends) to compose and record music to complement the Kreutzman intermission visual shows. The music from this “tour intermission” is now available. Circles Around The Sun – Interludes For The Dead consists of10 tracks that clock in over two hours. The intent was to celebrate The Dead and the culture that surrounds it. CD 1 begins with “Hallucinate A Solution”. Inspired by a Lesh comment, there is a steady medium tempo. Casal executes many “spacey” guitar riffs with multiple effects (especially reverb). MacDougall adds synthesizer and electric piano as the rhythm section (Dan Horne/bass, Mark Levy/drums) maintain the cadence. The jam is reminiscent of middle set Grateful Dead material, with a hypnotic pulse. But this piece is over twenty minutes in length and can be tedious. It would have been nice to see the visuals. “Gilbert’s Groove” is just that, full of hooks and vamps with an urban (or in Dead parlance Shakedown Street) feel. Casal’s pedal guitar work is excellent and the overall electronic sounds are weirdly appealing.

The dance vibe continues on “Kasey’s Bones” as MacDougall adds nimble Fender Rhodes and organ. Casal is right there with him with his lyrical play, adding interesting solos. The duo seems to be experimenting with sonic details. The final 3:00 is a hushed reverie. “Space Wheel” follows with atmospheric, free-form jams. Disc 2 keeps the medium-groove rolling with organ runs, and wah-wah guitar riffs on “Ginger Says”. The next cut is titled “Farewell Franklins”. It is the longest (25 minutes) and perhaps the most interesting composition on the album. It combines several genres (soul, jazz, rock) and has transitions. Casal’s edgy, “psychedelic” dynamics propel the number. MacDougall’s organ rolls and swells. The group rocks out!

In contrast, “Saturday’s Children” has a near-country, finger-snapping resonance that will definitely remind the listener of classic Jerry Garcia. The guitar and synthesizer solos are potent. Returning to space jam “Scarlotta’s Magnolias” moves to a more spirited finish. “Hat And Cane” deviates with a slower, bluesy aesthetic. There is a gentle shimmer to the instrumentation that is dream-like. The finale, “Mountains Of The Moon”, a bona fide Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter opus, clocks in at a brisk 5:17. It originally appeared on Aoxomoxoa in 1969.

Interludes For The Dead is not a specific Grateful Dead project. It is a very abstract, instrumental accompaniment to concert visuals. The tracks run quite long, and portions of the repeat sustained rhythm can be monotonous. But with additional listening, the individual songs establish their own identity. Both Casal and MacDougall capably express their musical chops as a spiritual homage to The Dead, Circle Around The Sun holds its own ground as an agile, eclectic band. And they do so which the same otherworldly countenance as their heroes, The sound quality is top notch and the fans attending the shows loved the music.

CD 1: Hallucinate A Solution; Gilbert’s Groove; Kasey’s Bones; Space Wheel
CD 2: Ginger Says; Farewell Franklins; Saturday’s Children; Scarlotta’s Magnolias; Hat And Cane; Mountains Of The Moon

—Robbie Gerson

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