Circle Round The Signs

Al Scorch

Bloodshot Records, 2016

REVIEW BY: Tom Haugen


The words country, punk, folk and bluegrass rarely go together in the same sentence—unless you're Chicago's Al Scorch, that is. On Scorch's second album and first with the almighty Bloodshot Records, also from Chicago, Scorch is just as much Black Flag in spirit as he is Billy Bragg, and we're all better off for it.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Scorch's debut on Bloodshot doesn't waste anytime showcasing his talents, as “Pennsylvania Turnpike” opens up with lightning quick banjo acrobatics and maintains a furious, almost puzzling pace. “Lost At Sea” follows with a more subdued entrance, but develops into ultra-fast accordion and banjo dueling. “Everybody Out” is when Scorch shows us other avenues of his songwriting with a quirky pop-influenced spin on his bluegrass songs. At this point we're well aware of Scorch's ability to pick with intensity, but he shows us a plaintive side with the beauty of “Insomnia,” that then abruptly turns into one of the swiftest songs here, before retreating back to the calm, aching beauty of a cello.

Although there isn't a song here that isn't fantastic, the soft and folk-influenced “Lonesome Low” and shimmering alt-country of beauty of “City Lullaby” are two worth mentioning among the best-penned tunes of the year, the latter resembling an updated version of Whiskeytown's best work.

Another great aspect of this record is the choice of a cover in Woody Guthrie's “Slipknot.” Scorch's version is much fuller and more accelerated than the original, and transforms the protest folk-anthem into a rollicking barnyard stomper. The album exits on the gritty “Love After Death,” a punk-fueled anthem that will appeal to fans of Chuck Ragan or Tim Barry. 

If you're like me and just haven't found much released in 2016 that really grabs ahold of you, or outfits in the Mumford, Avett and Lumineers vein aren't holding your attention, this album demands a spin.

Rating: A-

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© 2016 Tom Haugen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Bloodshot Records, and is used for informational purposes only.