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Al Scorch

Circle Round the Signs – 2016 (Bloodshot)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by Al Scorch

Credit the new wave of populist nu-folk/newgrass talent and troubadours for having made a profound impression on today's Americana legions. Bands like The Avett Brothers, The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons have influenced any number of artists that have followed in their wake, mostly banjo-thumping, rhythm-ready ensembles that are ready to raise a ruckus and coax their audiences to come along for the ride. Chicago's Al Scorch is the newest disciple of that pervasive sound, and while his reference points are surprisingly diverse - Billy Bragg, Woody Guthrie, the Bad Livers and the Mekons all enter the mix - his sheer exuberance and rowdy insurgency resist any and all temptation to put him into any specific niche.

Scorch's "Circle Round the Signs" bears a prophetic title, but his unhinged execution reflects an anarchistic attitude that tosses out the rules and replaces them with his own signature stomp. And while songs like the loping "Lonesome Low" and the mournful "Poverty Draft" do bear a certain kinship to the Avetts, it doesn't detract from the absolute exhilaration that the former entails and the heart wrenching emotion invested in the latter. Scorch is nothing if not passionate, and whether its the unhinged blues and bluegrass of Guthrie's "Slipknot" or the brassy ragtime revelry of "Everybody Out," his material somehow manages to come across as both striking and circumspect all at the same time.

Given those factors, "Circle Round the Signs" marks Scorch as an artist of reckoning and one to be reckoned with as well. There's nothing passive about his approach, and, in fact, after only two albums, it's clear that he's already made an indelible impression. While comparisons may abound amongst the uninitiated, the new album offers every indication that his own imprint resonates as well.