Classic rock n roll transcends time by distilling heart and passion into the soul that connects us with others in some collective unconscious pool of emotion, which can range from exuberance to the darkness of heartbreak. Whether we grew up listening to the likes of the Faces and the Rolling Stones or the Dogs D’amour and Quireboys or checking out this new mini album by the Circus Hearts, these are not just songs but the sonic blood that drives us. The Circus Hearts have sprinkled a couple of singles out over the past few years which are also included here on one of the finest albums you will hear this year.
I have been lucky enough to spend about a month with these songs, which immediately grabbed me but have become even more contagious over repeated listens. Opening song ‘This Old Coat’ comes ringing in on the guitar and a sprinkling of piano which sets the stage perfectly with Joe Anzuena’s vocals on the verse immediately making a statement that this is going to be special. In the past, I have thought this musical approach isn’t doing anything revolutionary new, but I now lean a little bit more towards the other end as not nearly enough music is being made in this style anymore. ‘Family Tree’ roars out of the speaker with a hint of Exile/ Sticky Fingers era Stones. Like the opening track, this one packs another stellar hook in the chorus.
The album is self-produced and mixed perfectly. Sean Flynn’s guitar jumps out of the speakers while the rhythm section of Jojo Buerklin (drums) and Chris Herninko (bass) carries each song to new heights. Each song also employs the use of piano/ keys which also shine in the mix. Wrapping up the first half of the album is a splendid cover of the Faces’ ‘Had Me a Real Good Time.’ Covering such a song can end up going spectacularly bad, but there are no reasons for worry here. Anzuena’s vocals are magical throughout the song as he hits the notes perfectly and gives them a hint of grit when needed.
Flipping the wax over leads to another embarrassment of musical riches. ‘Baby Bye Bye’ should grab listeners who appreciate catchy guitar riffs, female backing vocals, and sax work. This style would have fit seamlessly on the Black Crowes’ ‘Shake Your Money Maker’ or the first couple Quireboys’ albums. At no point in this album is there any dip in quality. Follow-up song ‘Annie C’mon’ continues in a similar vain and contains some killer sax work by Bobby Michaels. I would be perfectly content to isolate the sax in the song and just listen to it because of how well it is done.
Closing song ‘Circus Hearts” has become my favorite amongst favorites here as it slows the tempo a bit with a nice piano intro. The slower tempo allows Anzuena’s vocals to shine again as we vicariously feel life on the road moving from town to town. Lyrically, the Circus Hearts establish their own identity as well with familiar subject matter avoiding the typical cliches. Much as the Faces cover closed side 1 as the longer epic, this final song goes past the 5-minute mark as it continues to build. This is not a power ballad though if that is what you are thinking. This is just a slower rock song that exudes emotion.
At the end of the album, the biggest disappointment is that there are only 6 songs here. It leaves you longing for more songs, so the only logical solution is to either flip the vinyl over to start again or let the digital files circle back around for another play. The Circus Hearts have channeled a magic elixir here and hopefully have more in store for us in the future. If you like any of the bands I have mentioned or needing a fix of rock n roll, I urge you to stop reading and go pick up the vinyl before it is too late and you have to settle for just a download of one of the best releases of 2023 whose timelessness will mean you are adding this to your favorite playlists moving forward.
Author: Gerald Stansbury