Our latest release "Once Upon A Time", through Orange Blossom Records, has been met with positive reviews and radio chart action!
From Bluegrass Today's John Lawless, 3/21/16: Once Upon A Time, the latest release from West Virginia’s Circa Blue on Orange Blossom Records, is without question their most ambitious and artistically successful recording to date. And it’s a testament to the dedication and perseverance of Steve Harris, guitarist and vocalist with the band, who has overseen the evolution of the group over their brief, four year professional history.
Harris and banjo picker Matt Hickman are all that remain from the original lineup, which had initially included Steve’s brother Dave on bass and Ron Webb on mandolin. That was the listing on the debut Circa Blue album in the winter of 2012, a launch mired in some sadness for the guys as their actual original mandolinist, Mike McDonald, had recently died quite suddenly as that album was being recorded.
But they pushed through that, just as they have numerous additional personnel changes, leading to what we hope will be a stable roster going forward. And as new talent has come into the band, Harris and Hickman have given them room to shine their own lights with both fiddler Malia Furtado and bass player Ashley Stewart welcomed as lead vocalists alongside Steve. The variety the three songsters add to this record is marked, as is the inclusion of male and female voices.
Harris is a serviceable singer, though perhaps lacking a bit in nuance, but he does a fine job on Brink Brinkman’s Carolina Dust, a bluesy ballad, Before You Leave Here, a barn burner of his co-written with David Morris and Matt Naveau, Queen of Hearts, a grassy cover of the 1981 hit for Juice Newton, and a somewhat obscure Gordon Lightfoot number, Whispers of the North.
He also adds a lovely duet with Furtado on I Sing Your Song, one of the record’s most satisfying tracks. Written by Harris with David Morris and Dawn Kenney, it’s a tender love song with appropriately understated accompaniment. I can see this one getting the attention of bluegrass radio.
Malia also takes the lead on Once Upon A Time, another of Steve’s compositions, with a quirky change in the chorus from the bright, upbeat sound of the verses. Her smooth and subdued delivery provides a lovely contrast on these tracks.
Ashley sings on a nice old time-flavored cover of the chestnut, Angeline the Baker, and Tripped, Stumbled and Fell, a fun swingy song from Dawn Kenney and Rick Lang. Hearing her comfort with that second, another of the disc’s strongest, leaves me wondering why she wasn’t tasked with Queen of Hearts as well.
The pickers are featured on Cold Frosty Morning, an old fiddle tune that had become a standard in bluegrass and old time music. The Circa Blue arrangement starts with banjo and mandolin playing the melody, with fiddle joining in as the others change octaves, before the whole band joins in for a lively romp. Both Hickman and mandolinist Garrett Wren demonstrate their ability on this one, as does Furtado who is also a first rate fiddler.
Once Upon A Time shows the steady growth of Circa Blue, marking their continuing claim to move into headliner status. Look for the album at the band web site, and wherever bluegrass music is sold.
We've gotten some great feedback on our "A Darker Blue" album!
From Bluegrass Today, 3/17/14:
"The new release from Circa Blue is accurately named. In A Darker Blue, this Northern Maryland trio puts the blues in bluegrass.
The title gives a solid hint, of course. Further evidence comes from a glance through the titles of the 13 songs included here – Haunted, Drunkard’s Moan, Dark as a Dungeon, Ain’t Got No Money, Dark Hollow, and I Still Look for You.
And if those clues elude you, you won’t miss it once the music starts, even when the tales of woe are set to a blazing bluegrass tempo. You can hear the despair in the fiddle of Chris Sexton and the resophonic guitar of Gaven Largent and in the mournful voices of Steve Harris and Ron Webb.
The best of the best here is a Webb and Harris original, Ain’t Got No Money, the sad tale of a guy who lost his wife, lost his job and lost his money transformed perfectly into a swing tune. It’s far and away the best original song in this collection. Imagine being so down and out that a beggar “said I’m sorry as he threw a quarter at my feet.”
Other standouts are Dark as a Dungeon, a Merle Travis song popularized by the Country Gentlemen, I Still Look for You, a musician’s lament about too many miles on the road and too little time at home by Tom Clowser, and Dark Hollow. This bluegrass standard has been cut countless times, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bluesier arrangement than this one.
I’m also partial to Let the Lower Lights Be Burning, an old hymn lifted by the pairing of Harris’ lead vocal and Webb’s tenor and a simple but elegant guitar break from producer Aaron Ramsey.
And if all the blues get you down, Circa Blue tucked a pick-me-up in the middle of the darkness, a rip-roaring instrumental from the band’s banjoman, Matt Hickman. I have to confess that I don’t always “get” how instrumentals are named, even when I hear the composer’s explanation. But I “got” Lead Foot right off the bat. The tune, which races along from start to finish, propelled by Marshall Wilborn’s tasteful bass playing, was named after a friend of Hickman’s was caught speeding.
At the moment, Circa Blue’s picking and singing are stronger on balance than their writing. But as the band mates develop as songwriters to the point where most of their originals are as solid as Ain’t Got No Money and Lead Foot, Circa Blue’s following is sure to grow."
From Prescription Bluegrass, 4/1/14:
"After listening to “A Darker Blue” several times over several days and after reading the twelve panels of liner notes and lyrics in the CD case, I feel I’ve gotten to know Circa Blue fairly well.
With the release of “A Darker Blue” this Virginia based group throws their hat in the crowded ring of bluegrass bands looking to be heard above the din. Not an easy task, but this is a band that knows how to dig in, this is a band that knows how to make instruments hit on all eight. This band knows how to drive."
They liked us way back when, too! Here's what folks had to say about our 2012 debut album:
From Bluegrass Today:
“In today’s music world there’s a whole lot more to starting a band than merely getting together with four to five guys, hacking out some tunes, booking, and playing shows. Each band must strive to create their own sound, generate original material, and ultimately find a band name which catches the listeners’ attention. West Virginia-based band Circa Blue has accomplished just that with the release of their debut self-titled album."