May 13, 2016

Album Review: Al Scorch - Circle Round the Signs

Review by Kevin Broughton

Chicago once put its own distinctive stamps on blues and jazz. And nearly a century later, a son of the Windy City has weaponized the banjo to change the way we hear bluegrass and folk, punk and country. Enter Al Scorch, the latest addition to Bloodshot Records’ stable of provocative, genre-bending artists, and his groundbreaking and innovative Circle Round the Signs.

Scorch (his real name – perhaps only “Al Thrash” would be more appropriate) combines a frenetic, relentless claw-hammer stroke, progressive themes and sensible lyrics for the common man. The result serves as a reminder of the versatility of the banjo, outside of the familiarity of traditional bluegrass. Scorch leads us on a historical survey of the instrument from Dixieland jazz to Pogues-era progressivism. He uses a French horn as a plaintive counterweight and a fiddle as a mournful muse.  And on Circle Round the Signs, you’ll see why The Huffington Post calls Scorch “the finest country-punk-folk-bluegrass banjo player in the country.” (I didn’t know that was a thing; damned if it ain’t, though.)

Woody Guthrie’s “Slipknot” gets a 21st Century go-round, and “Poverty Draft” is a thoughtful take on the military as career option in today’s economy.

Thoughtful and evocative of the best of the Avett Brothers, Circle Round the Signs is yet another example of Bloodshot’s finding stellar talent to give modern, fresh takes on timeless music.


Circle Round the Signs is available on Bloodshot and Amazon.

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