And So On

Circa:

Independent release, 2011

http://www.circahq.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/08/2011

The question looming for Circa in 2011 was clear. An offshoot of the impossibly complex family tree of progressive rock titans Yes, Circa was founded in 2007 by former Yes members Billy Sherwood, Tony Kaye and Alan White, along with friend and sometime Yes sideman Jimmy Haun.  The past four years, however, saw steady changes as first Jay Schellen and now Ronnie Ciago assumed White’s drum slot, and guitarist Haun stepped down, making way for Johnny Bruhns.  With half the band replaced between 2009’s HQ and this year’s disc, would bassist/vocalist Sherwood and keyboardist Kaye be able to pick up where they left off?

As if to answer the obvious query, Circa kick off their new disc with “And So On,” a nine-minute mini-epic whose title declares the very same continuity of sound that is immediately heard in the song itself.  Bruhns and Ciago take all of two minutes to establish firmly that Circa’s musical mission—a fusion of classic progressive ‘70s Yes and arena-prog ‘80s Yes—lives on in this new configuration.  Driving bass, shimmery, nimble guitar runs, moody Hammond organ and adventurous drumming—it’s all here, intact.  And then they hit breakdowns like the one at 3:30 and Bruhns confirms that he’s a dual threat, just as capable of channeling Trevor Rabin’s sheeny, muscular riffage as Steve Howe’s fluid elegance.  In other words, a perfect fit for this group.

As on each of Circa’s past releases, it’s fascinating while listening to my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 And So On to observe how the fusion of the two major eras of Yes comes together under Sherwood and Kaye’s leadership.  The music, instrumentation and dynamics carry a strong flavor of the Yes Album-era group, with heavy, aggressive bass, virtuosic guitar and Kaye’s warm, energetic Hammond work.  The production, on the other hand, is very Big Generator in feel—crisp, clean and clear on all of the instruments, very airy and echoey, with somewhat processed vocals.  (If there’s one thing about the Circa sound that this listener would like to see continue to evolve, it’s probably how Sherwood the producer treats Sherwood the singer’s vocals.  He has an excellent voice that needs less processing and tweaking than he seems to believe; the album would sound warmer and more organic if the vocals were less “produced.”)

That’s it for quibbles, though, as And So On again delivers a series of dynamic soundscapes behind Sherwood’s philosophical, generally upbeat lyrics.  The steadily-evolving “Til We Get There” starts out stately and spacious before catching fire two minutes in and developing terrific drive.  There might be just four instruments present most of the way—guitar, bass, drums and Hammond—but the inventive music and dynamic shifts in tone and time signature are superb. 

“Notorious” follows, for the most part a slower, rather contemplative tune, but punctuated with airburst solos from Bruhns, dancing brightly far above the rhythm section.  “Half Way Home” has a heavier feel; Tony Kaye almost sounds like he’s joined Deep Purple here.  “In My Sky” is a scaled-down, atmospheric tune spotlighting Bruhns’ acoustic work and Sherwood’s lead vocals.  Both guys nail their parts and the song is a pleasant break from the big sound of much of the rest of the album.

“True Progress” has a strong Rabin/’80s feel in its opening and closing sections, very 90125, falling back at 3:30 into a dreamy middle section featuring soaring vocals and pinpoint slide work from Bruhns.  Ten-minute closer “Life’s Offering” puts these pieces together a different way, combining a heavy central motif with an airy vocal melody, and delivering another quiet middle section, this time featuring almost classical acoustic guitar picking from Bruhns leading into a heavy jam. 

And So On gives all four players abundant opportunities to shine, and shine they do.  Finding the sweet spot between progressive rock and a more mainstream sound isn’t easy—bigger names than Circa have tried and failed—but these guys have managed to locate it once again.  Bruhns and Ciago are eminently worthy additions to help Sherwood and Kaye carry on the unique “Yes-but-not-Yes” musical legacy they continue to build with Circa.

Rating: B+

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