If you were to simply glance at the cover art and spin the first track from “Boy From Black Mountain” you’d think that Beat Circus had perhaps spent a little too much time with those early Decemberists albums. Thankfully, those comparisons end there and what follows is a dazzling mix of raw Americana performed marvelously by this Boston-based octet.
Closer in sound and spirit to the current Young God Records roster, Larkin Grimm in fact lending her vocal talents to four of the songs, Beat Circus tackle a variety of folk songforms with both high energy and sweeping big band dynamics. On songs like “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” and “Petrified Man” they play a style of breakneck bluegrass where the trains-a-comin’ harmonica leads sound like there headed off the tracks. The plucked and bowed strings on “Judgement Day” and the title track, on the other hand, turn rather simple folk songs into something quite otherworldly. Scattered throughout the album are four instrumental tracks that draw from both the rock and film score canons, while highlighting the group’s broad range of instrumentation. On “The Quick and The Dead”, they bring together all of these elements, creating something that falls in line with some of the best material from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds or Angels of Light, indeed close to Michael Gira vocally.
Lyrically, as many of the song titles would suggest, Beat Circus delves deep into the Southern Gothic literature tradition of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. In fact, “Boy From Black Mountain” is said to be the second in what frontperson Brian Carpenter has dubbed his “Weird American Gothic” trilogy. Certainly themes of religion and redemption play out, but it’s not all heavy-handed, as Carpenter doesn’t shy away lyrically from child-like curiosities and daydreams.
Like recent offerings from Fire on Fire, “Boy From Black Mountain” provides another fine example of a band revitalizing traditional folk music without resorting to any post-something-or-other gimmickry, just great songs and great playing. 8/10 -- David Perron (20 January, 2010)