Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Prescription Bluegrass Reviews CIRCA BLUE - A Darker Blue!

After listening to “A Darker Blue” several times over several days and after reading the twelve panels of liner notes and lyrics in the CD case, I feel I've gotten to know Circa Blue fairly well.

With the release of “A Darker Blue” this Virginia based group throws their hat in the crowded ring of bluegrass bands looking to be heard above the din. Not an easy task, but this is a band that knows how to dig in, this is a band that knows how to make instruments hit on all eight. This band knows how to drive.



The core of Circa Blue is Steve Harris / guitar & vocals, Ron Webb / mandolin & vocals and 5 string banjo player Matt Hickman. Instrumentally this is a very talented trio. It is evident that they give ample thought to arrangements, intros, solo structure and well-placed syncopated timing.

Steve Harris plays solid rhythm guitar, not much lead, but when he does it is in the right place at the right time. Ron Webb's mandolin work is impressive at every speed, great chops and intricate solos. Matt Hickman gets worked like a rented mule. The good news is that he keeps up and then some. His combination of Scruggs and melodic style banjo works like a charm.

"I especially liked the mojo they whooped on Dark as a Dungeon."
I refer to Steve, Ron and Matt as the “core”. I read the liner notes and got the impression that these three gents find themselves in the same quandary that seems to challenge every band sooner or later, and that is being able to cover all the instrumental bases all the time. If you've ever had the joyous opportunity of trying to maintain a full band, you know exactly what I mean.

When recording a project over a period of time the fix is relatively easy. You call in favors from friends and sidemen to fill the missing elements. I would love to have a Rolodex full of friends like Circa Blue.

They went 3 for 3 when planning the line-up for the recording of A Darker Blue. They invited the great Marshall Wilborn to play bass. You cannot do better than the 2009 IBMA bass player of the year. Marshall is just plain solid.

Fiddle player Chris Sexton's style fits this band like a glove. Very tasteful, full of tone, hot leads and sneaky fills, and through the wonder of studio magic, Chris Sexton gets to play double fiddle with Chris Sexton. Yummy.

This brings us to Dobro player Gaven ( pronounced Gayv-in) Largent...ok, time out...what the what? This guy, this kid, is all of 18 years old. I don't know if he grew up next door to Jerry Douglas or is Rob Ickes' secret twin or what, but wow, just wow. Nasty. His lead-ins alone raised the hair on my neck. I want to, and more than likely will, hear more Dobro pyrotechnics from Gaven Largent in the coming years.

Ok, back to reality. Circa Blue managed to successfully put their own spin on standards such as John Hardy and Dark Hollow, I especially liked the mojo they whooped on Dark as a Dungeon.

Very well done. Steve Harris and Ron Webb included half a dozen originals on this recording two of which, Drunkard's Moan and To Mabel with Love, rise to the top along with Matt Hickman's hard driving instrumental Lead Foot.

The diverse vibe of the album is rounded out with with the 1871 hymn Let the Lower Lights be Burning on one end and The Rolling Stone's 1971 Wild Horses on the other. Circa Blue is a good band, but I am probably just as anxious as they are for the day when their vocal capabilities reach the lofty heights of their instrumental firepower. My advice to them would be to keep on pickin' and singin'....and either kidnap or adopt Gaven Largent. I hope to be able to see them perform live sometime and look forward to their next project. Good job boys. www.circa-blue.com

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