The Orange Circus Band “Whistle in the Dawn” (Independent, 2020)

The Orange Circus Band are a Bluegrass/Americana collective based in Kent, but proclaiming roots in Virginia, USA, and this influence is plain to see in their new release ‘Whistle in the Dawn‘, which boasts an instrumental line up typical of the bluegrass genre, including guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin and fiddle, but augmented here by percussion, keys, pedal steel and harmonica. This is a spirited and uplifting album, with some rousing songs to get an audience on its feet, but its influences go wider into both traditional and contemporary folk, and folk-rock, contributing to a varied collection of original songs.

Old Souls‘ is a barnstorming opener, closest to straight bluegrass roots, but also with leanings towards the folk/American roots crossover which characterised Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance era, an influence which features on several tracks, notably the up-tempo ‘Bare Naked‘, with its prominent mandolin, harmonica and skiffle/shuffle style percussion, and ‘Sweet Mercy‘.

Lead vocals are shared by Jessie Moonlight (Vocals/Banjo/Piano/Organ), who has an ethereal tone in the Alison Krauss mould, Flash Hearth (Vocals/Guitar/Harmonica)  and Raven (Vocals/Fiddle/Mandolin), with some delightful harmonies, joined by Baron Purcell on bass/double bass, percussion from Hugo Squire Jones, Pete Hedley and Pabs Picarro, and pedal steel and bass from Sequoia Coyote.

The folk influences are more evident on the fiddle-driven ‘Sit Down by the Fire‘, another rousing track, while on ‘Fly the River‘ a softer tone is struck, with fingerstyle guitar and plaintive fiddle, as the band sing “Stormy weather/Stormy seas/Fly the river/Find the breeze/Stormy Winters/Open Coats/Rolling Marbles/Down the coast” leading to the moving refrain “Holy Smoke Come on down/Come on Down/Holy Smoke Come on down/Holy Smoke Come on down/Come on Down/Holy Smoke Come on down“.

In stand out track ‘Sweet Mercy’ the fragility of life is explored with leanings to a gospel theme, with the scene-setting verse taking us to the memorable chorus: “When the Storm is filled with anger/Threatens to knock you off your feet/And Death seems close at hand/And your maker you will meet/When the thunder is upon you/Threatens to tear this boat apart/And there is no land to see/And you lose all hope and heart/Oooooohhhhh, Sweet Mercy/Oooooohhhhh, to be with thee“. With acoustic guitar and mandolin to the fore, and those great harmonies, the song has echoes of The Lone Bellow.

The Orange Circus Band have attracted favourable attention from the likes of Bob Harris and Roger Daltrey, and on this showing, the plaudits from such greats of the music world are wholly justified.

Bluegrass/folk crossover with hints of Ronnie Lane
8/10

Author: David Jarman

Long time fan of Americana genre, from early days of Ry Cooder, through to today's thriving scene. Regular visitor to USA ( Nashville/Austin/Memphis/LA ) live music junkie, I play guitar, mandolin, harmonica, plus vocals, run monthly jam session in Broadstairs

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