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Beat Circus - Boy from Black Mountain

Boy from Black Mountain

Beat Circus

Cuneiform Records

Available from Cuneiform Records (Sept. 2009)

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

The Cuneiform label has long and rightly been famed for the sophistication of its groups, including such staggeringly talented outfits as Soft Machine, Univers Zero, and the Microscopic Quintet, while supporting such unusual and worthy ensembles as Miriodor, Cheer Accident, and others that wouldn't stand much of a chance in the market minus that support. With Beat Circus, the label has entered the roots music genre but with the usual and expected difference: this is a progressive-chamber-orchestral-Americana band with ambitions to the symphonic. More, they've guested the very talented and eccentric Larkin Grimm (here) on several songs.

Beat Circus is an eight-piece wielding accordion, piano, violin, viola, cello, guitar, trombone, tuba, double bass, drums, harmonium, musical saw, singing and throat singing…and, c'mon, any band which inducts the 'bone and the tuba has got to be cool! Pickin' and grinnin' applies as much here as to any bluegrass band, as these very skilled musicians are demons when it comes to chops, tight as you please, country store friendly, Mount Pilot earthy, and frequently slyly satirical and subversively divertive. Without a close listen, you'd never guess that the joyously exuberant As I Lay Dying is actually a nasty tale of jealousy, insanity, and multiple murders. The song sounds as though Brian Carpenter's calling out the changes for an energetic square dance intended to exhaust the participants, but a shiver runs up the spine once realization dawns. Clever bastards.

In fact, a lot of the narrative is grim but you can't help but bark out a surprised guffaw when squaring it all against the provincial strains and classicalist airs. If Randy Newman were to finish a tome by Poe and then de Sade, this is the kind of fare he'd pen…then hand it over to a very matured Pogues-ish wheatfield group. It's rumored Carpenter's a defrocked hellfire parson, and, by gadfry, it wouldn't surprise me a bit, 'cause there's a very intimate familiarity with the underside of life here that can't possibly have derived from the Boy Scouts or Soroptimists. More, Mr. Carpenter wrote everything except two sets of lyrics. We're dealing, in other words, with a deadly new force in music guaranteed to corrupt America's youth—and hopefully the adults along with them (but then look at how many of those idiots voted for George Bush TWICE!!!)—into unnatural ways, unholy acts, and a delightfully anarchic irreverence for everything that comes its way.

There's hope for the future after all.

Track List:

  • The February Train
  • The Life ou Save May be Your Own
  • Boy from Black Mountain
  • Clouds Moving In
  • Petrified Man
  • As I Lay Dying
  • Satyrn Song
  • The Course of the River
  • The Quick and the Dead
  • The Sound and the Fury
  • Judgement Day
  • Nantahala
  • Lullaby for Alexander
All songs written by Brian Carpenter except
Petrified Man and As I Lay Dying (Carpenter / Voelker).

Edited by: David N. Pyles


Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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