All cheesiness aside, Al Scorch’s banjo-picking will scorch you! It’s too hot to touch and practically leaves smoke in its wake. On his new record Circle Round the Signs you’ll get frenzied bursts of bluegrass in each quick tune. Scorch barely comes up for air on each track, playing his heart out with an intimidating level of energy that is sure to suck you in. The guy can probably play circles around the best of them, yet his arrangements make it sound so easy and smooth, and when combined with the thrilling sense of urgency in his punk rock singing, Scorch has already mastered a signature sound.
What is most special about Circle Round the Signs is that way it shows Scorch’s own tastes. You get everything from pop rock, to country and western, to soapbox folk, to soulful blues and everything in between, but nothing sounds out of place or messy. Listeners should not be deterred if banjo doesn’t seem exciting, because you will walk away with so much more, as Scorch covers all the bases in a subtle and smart way. He nods to his influences without mimicking them, and will leave you at a loss for comparing him to anyone else.
If you don’t find yourself dancing to the stoner anthem “Want One” with its rip roaring fiddle and mile-a-minute banjo plucking, you’ll certainly not be able to stand still for the undeniably catchy “Slipknot” with its fiery harmonica runs. And when Scorch takes it down a few notches on “City Lullaby”, you’ll be swooning, because in case you thought there was something this guy couldn’t do, he can also craft a killer beauty of a ballad (an up-tempo one, but a ballad nonetheless). Similarly “Lonesome Low” is a darker, quieter, and even sadder moment for Scorch, but one of his best. “Lost at Sea” is somewhere in between and another true standout on an album chock full of unforgettable hooks.
Scorch shows a real appreciation for old timey folk and country music with a bluegrass bent and a refreshing take on this often too nostalgic sound. He livens it up in all the right places, mainly with his vocals, which are brimming with badass confidence. Songs like “Everybody Out” and “Love After Death” show off Scorch’s powerhouse unselfconscious voice. He is less concerned with sounding perfect and more concerned with being himself. Like the most compelling preacher, when he sings, you want to listen to him, and most importantly, you want to hear him. When an artist jumps out at you like Scorch does, you pay attention, and without a doubt, you stomp your damn feet, too.
Photo: Nick Karp/Courtesy of Bloodshot Records