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Circles Around The Sun

Circles Around the Sun is an instrumental band initially spearheaded by guitarist Neal Casal, that was formed to create incidental music for 2015's Fare Thee Well concerts by surviving members of the Grateful Dead. The character of that music reflected the Dead's spacy, grooving feel. After the concerts, the group issued excerpts from shows as Interludes for the Dead. The positive response motivated them to release a 2018 follow-up, Let It Wander, a flowing meld of jazz-funk, fusion, and R&B. After completing the Meets Joe Russo EP and a third album in 2019, Casal died by suicide. The group continued to tour with a rotating cast of guitarists; they eventually asked John Lee Shannon to join permanently, and he played on 2023's Language. They collaborated with harpist/vocalist Mikaela Davis as frontperson on 2024's After Sunrise. Video director Justin Kreutzmann (son of GD drummer Bill) approached guitarist/composer Neal Casal (Ryan Adams' Cardinals, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Phil Lesh & Friends) about creating five hours of music to accompany his biographical visuals to be shown during the Fare Three Well concert intermissions. Casal enlisted keyboardist Adam MacDougall (a fellow member of the Robinson Brotherhood and Lesh's Friends bands), bassist Dan Horne (Beachwood Sparks, Jonathan Wilson), and drummer Mark Levy (the Congress). The band's aim was to pay tribute to the music of Grateful Dead while also taking inspiration from their relentless boundary-pushing and ultimately, discovering their own voice. To that end, they entered the studio without having prepared any material, composing music on the spot and recording live for two days with engineer J.P. Hesser. They kept the process pure by not adding anything during post-production. The finished songs and jams were played during the concert and the response by attendees was so positive that Rhino Records decided to issue a proper release. A two-disc set culled from the original five hours of music was released as Interludes for the Dead in late November 2015. The complete recordings were made available as a triple-disc set included with the Dead's mammoth 19-disc box set that documents the complete run of shows and is titled, appropriately, Fare Thee Well. In the aftermath of this release, rather than splitting and going their own ways, the quartet played a series of shows. They returned to Castaway 7 Studios in Ventura, California in early 2018 for two weeks, this time with no set goal or structure in mind. They recorded seven instrumentals that diverged sharply from the content on their debut offering, and released it as the double-length album Let It Wander in August with music that ranged in scope from jazz fusion ("The Impossible") to wrangling funk ("One for Chuck," as in Public Enemy's Chuck D). The band took a short break after touring, and in mid-2019 began working on a third album with Grammy-winning producer Jim Scott at his Southern California studio. With most of the album completed, they turned in a crowd-pleasing late-night set at the Lockn Festival in August and finished an EP with Joe Russo on drums. On August 26, less than a week after their performance at Lockn, Casal died by suicide. In the aftermath, keyboardist Adam MacDougall, bassist Dan Horne, and drummer Mark Levy, all in a state of shock, grew closer than ever and spent a couple of months deciding whether to continue as a band. After the October release of Meets Joe Russo, they made a collective decision to continue and enlisted Casal's longtime friend and collaborator Eric Krasno (Soulive) as the first of several rotating guitarists to fill the chair on the road, others included Jared Mattson and Scott Metzger. In March 2020, the band issued their self-titled third album. Finished the week before Casal's death, the seven-track set represented his final studio sessions. One of their rotating live guitarists was New York-based John Lee Shannon, a recording artist in his own right who released the solo acoustic In & Of on Tompkins Square in 2020. The band spent a year touring with him before entering Horne's Echo Park studio with harpist Mikaela Davis as a guest. They emerged with the full-length Language. Released in April 2023 while CATS toured the U.S., the album offered hybrid strains of disco, funk, and soul-jazz, all informed by deep, spacy, neo-psychedelia. Harpist and vocalist Mikaela Davis's band opened for CATS on tour. Afterwards, they enlisted her as a co-billed collaborator for their long-player After Sunrise on Kill Rock Stars, and to play their North American support tour.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo


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