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Circus

Circus (vinyl)

Review by Gary Hill

This is a long-lost gem of early progressive rock. I suppose it should be called proto-prog, but it definitely has some pure prog moments. You'll note that I reference King Crimson at times in the track reviews. That's appropriate because Mel Collins, who later worked with Crimson, was part of this band. This 1969 release from the band was their only album, and it showcases a sound that is part psychedelic, part jazz and part pure prog. I think it has some moments of sheer brilliance that are sublime. It also has nothing that I'd consider sub-standard. In a fair world this album would have more prominence in the minds of prog fans.

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2022  Volume 5. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2022.

Track by Track Review
Side One
              
Norwegian Wood

Distorted guitar opens with the familiar Beatles riff. The track moves out from there shortly into some killer fuzz-laden sounds, but it returns to the main riff fairly shortly. Then a saxophone comes up as they take this out into a psychedelic meets proto prog jam that is purely on fire. It eventually drops way down for the entrance of the vocals, which are delivered over a very trippy arrangement. After the first vocal section, this explodes upward and the next vocals take it in very interesting directions. This whole thing just keeps evolving and exploring in killer ways and directions. Eventually the fire out into a scorching hot jam based around the melodies of the song, really creating some powerful instrumental passages as they deliver it all in fiery hard-edged jazz meets fuzz ways.

Pleasures of a Lifetime
Trippy mellower sounds bring this piece into being. It has a dark and moody psychedelic angle to it. It is also intricate and so dramatic, despite the sedate nature. Eventually vocals come over the top. I love how far up in the mix the bass is. There is plenty of psychedelia along with mellow proto prog in the mix here. It has some hints of jazz, too. This might be understated, but it's still magical. It grows upward gradually from there. A powered up jazz jam takes over after a while. That works its way through, and then drops back for a mellower instrumental excursion that is very much set in a jazz prog vein. The vocals return at the end to bring it all back full circle.
St. Thomas
Percussion is the first thing heard on this number. The track takes on a bouncy sort of tropical groove. This is bouncy and fun. This gives way to a cool jazzy jam based on that type of rhythm. The tune is light-hearted instrumental entertainment.
Goodnight John Morgan
Mellow, but more dramatic, jazzy textures get this one going. This is a short instrumental piece that is faded down at the end. And, by "short," I mean less than two minutes. For this type of music, that's short.
Side Two
                   
Father of My Daughter

Canterbury meets balladic Beatles-like sounds on this number. The bass stands out quite a bit at times, and that's a cool thing.

II B.S.
Some trippy sound-effects are heard at the beginning of this. The bass rises up from there, and the band eventually launch out from there into a powerhouse fast-paced jazz prog jam that is on fire. Driving, fast paced prog this makes me think of early King Crimson in a lot of ways.This is definitely one of the highlights of the set. It's just so cool. It seems to end, but then the bass comes back in, and we're taken out into another killer variant on the themes, this one even more incendiary than the last.
Monday Monday
Every big as jazzy as the last tune, this has a more light-hearted, playful traveling vibe to it. It still manages a lot of cool twists and turns and some real drama. After the extended introduction they take us out into the familiar sounds of the main song for the vocal movement. Some flute soloing takes the lead after that vocal part.
Don't Make Promises
There is a folky feeling to this track. That part of the song is prominent throughout, but they do bring some jazzy jamming to it, as well. This is more along the lines of folk prog than it is anything else. It's also a satisfying piece of music that works well.
 
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