Circles Around The Sun: Interludes For The Dead (2015)

Guitarist Neal Casal passed away earlier this week.  Casal seemed to play guitar for just about everybody, most notably Americana acts like Ryan Adams and the Jayhawks and Lucinda Williams.  But my favorite Casal project was called Circles Around The Sun.

When I saw the Grateful Dead's "Fare Thee Well" 50th anniversary show a few years back, with Phish's Trey Anastasio standing in for Jerry Garcia, one of the more interesting parts of the concert was the ambient instrumental music played over the loudspeakers between sets.  It sounded vaguely like Dead jams, but clearly wasn't the Dead.  An expanded version of the music was later released as a 2-CD set called Interludes For The Dead by Circles Around The Sun, which was basically guitarist Casal leading a jam session with various other musicians from in or around the Dead's circle.  

Interludes For The Dead are not covers.  Rather, they sound like extensions of Dead jams -- you'll hear a riff or a pattern that sounds loosely like a jam you can sort of envision coming out of a particular song.  Hence, many of the song titles allude to various parts of the band's canon, and you can hear traces of the referenced songs if you listen hard enough, but what you mostly hear is the overall feel you might have expected to stumble across about 10 minutes into a jam built off of that song.  Know what I'm saying?

While these are instrumental jams, they are much less ragged and loose than the typical live Dead show, almost formally composed.  They are also fairly slick, jazzy and lushly recorded; in spots this could just as easily serve as backing music for a Steely Dan tribute band.  On the whole, this is ambient music for Dead fans, a post-modern Brian Eno sprawl.  Now, Dead-based Muzak may not be your thing, but if you want some unobtrusive instrumentals to accompany you while you're working, or just need to seriously chill out, this stuff is pretty damn sweet.

There's a huge wealth of Circles performances on YouTube, but here's a nice one if you'd like some visuals to accompany your spacing out:
 R.I.P, Neal.