Paste (magazine) - "'Space Wheel' and 'Farwell Franklins' echo the psychedelic soul-jazz sentiments of Jerry Garcia's tenure in collaboration with Howard Wales."
Personnel: Adam MacDougall (keyboards); Mark Levy (drums).
Audio Mixer: J.P. Hesser.
Liner Note Author: Neal Casal.
Recording information: Castaway Seven Studios, Ventura, CA.
Photographer: Neal Casal.
Circles Around the Sun isn't a band so much as a project; one that served a specific purpose. Neal Casal, guitarist for the Chris Robinson Brotherhood -- and occasional member of Phil Lesh & Friends -- was approached by Justin Kreutzmann to provide five hours of music to accompany his visuals that would play during the intermissions of the Grateful Dead's 50th anniversary sendoff Fare Thee Well concerts. Casal enlisted keyboardist Adam MacDougall (a fellow member of the Robinson Brotherhood and Lesh's bands), bassist Dan Horne (Beachwood Sparks, Jonathan Wilson), and drummer Mark Levy (the Congress) to that end. They walked into a studio with engineer J.P. Hesser having nothing prepared, spent two days recording live, and left with their mission accomplished. No overdubs were added during post-production. Concert attendees were so responsive to what they heard that Rhino decided to assemble this double disc. The titles of these ten tunes offer clues -- some quite deceptive -- as to the origins of these jams. While this music often references the Dead's approach, just as often they follow the legendary jam band's example: it travels outside the given lanes to discover new paths. Only two tunes are under ten minutes. Opener "Hallucinate a Solution" is a gorgeous example of Casal's lyrical guitar soloing and interplay with his bandmates; it's adorned by silvery reverb and delay in trancelike, exploratory psychedelia. The two-chord foundation of "Kasey's Bones" is bright, danceable boogie. Horne's bass lays down an unshakable groove as MacDougall, on both Rhodes and organ, delivers irresistible solos with Casal adding lyrical fills. The set's longest (and strongest) number, "Farewell Franklins," offers a sparkling soul-jazz exposition before cracking itself open to psychedelic ghost conjuring, sparkling melodic pop, elliptical spacy jamming, and rocking jazz-funk over 25 minutes. And speaking of the latter, "Scarlotta's Magnolias," with its bluesy, relaxed pace, recalls the good-time music Jerry Garcia made with Merl Saunders, John Kahn, and Bill Vitt on Live at Keystone. "Hat and Cane" touches on the Dead's quiet, unhurried ability to make magic out of open and minor chords, while "Mountains of the Moon" is a graceful, loosely interpreted instrumental reading of the Garcia-Robert Hunter tune. Given the cultural pressure cooker Circles Around the Sun were inside to make this record, Interludes for the Dead is remarkable, not only as a series of of jams inspired by the Grateful Dead, but on its own merit. If a listener is at all open to music created in the moment, pushing itself as far as it will logically go -- and far beyond -- this is two and a half hours of pure pleasure. Only time will tell if this group plays together again, but based on what's here, let's hope so. ~ Thom Jurek