This is the soundtrack for the spaceship; the DJ’s go-to disc aboard the intergalactic dance party. It is also the last album guitarist Neal Casal recorded with the group, completed after his tragic passing in August of 2019. There is an appropriately black cover, and lettering shiny like the music within: shimmering like glass; orbiting the mirror ball; the last boogie for one of its own.
Tracked by the invaluable engineer Jim Scott (Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Wilco), the seven-song collection is not so much a departure for the instrumental Southern California quartet, but a notch up on their retro timeline of musical movements. Inching forward from their psychedelic debut echoing the late ‘60s, through a groovy fusion, mid-70s follow-up, to now, a late ‘70s danceteria, CATS have once again charted their own funky course. Sunny, bright, even burning, this is an optimistic and smiling record; and one hard to reconcile with Casal’s death by suicide.
It’s difficult to process the loss of such a talent; harder still under the tragic circumstances. Those looking for clues won’t find any here. Casal’s playing is ebullient and inspired; an antidote to gloom. The compositions are layered and imaginative. The interplay between him and his bandmates- keyboardist Adam MacDougall, bassist Dan Horne, and drummer Mark Levy- is as sharp and reciprocal as ever. As Casal’s last work with CATS, it’s an absolute joy.
Circles Around the Sun was on an upswing as they recorded this third record. The buzz and attendance at shows both increasing as they dedicated more time to what was once a side project for Grateful Dead reunion shows. It is a band of four that had grown together as one, with a collective approach and sound that suggested limitless possibilities.
Casal, to whom the album is dedicated, asked that the group carry on in his absence. Having the conscience to suggest such a thing, among his final wishes, is bittersweet. The music will carry on, and this album will be the ticket to the constellations.