Curtis Eller’s American Circus – A Poison Melody

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 5/5

One of the most rewarding things about the songs of Curtis Eller, is that they take you to a different time and place to what you’re probably used to. In the past, the banjo-totin’ troubadour has provided us with tickets for an extraordinary trip through the annals of American history, evoking the spirit of the silent movie stars, dead presidents and boxing giants along the way, with the occasional pigeon ‘coo’ thrown in. Like Zelig, you imagine Curtis popping up in Movietone newsreels, appropriately attired in baggy trousers, vest and sneakers; the vaudeville clown with a deeper message, the burlesque entertainer with a pocketful of dreams. A Poison Melody sees Curtis and the American Circus come of age as the songs begin to grow on you from the start, notably “Radiation Poison”, “No Soap Riot” and the daring “After the Riot.” The vibrancy of Eller’s engaging performances are enhanced at every step along the way by the soaring punch of Steve Cowles’ tenor sax, Danny Grewen’s trombone and Danny Abrams’ baritone sax, or Tom Merrigan’s smokey blues piano on “Pay the Band”, not to mention Dana Marks and Stacy Wolfson’s alluring vocals, which effectively weave the soul into all the right places. At the helm though, Curtis Eller, whose expressive banjo licks are plucked and stroked with delicate restraint. The title song itself wouldn’t seem out of place on Tom Waits’ debut Closing Time, it’s superb duet providing the heart to this extraordinarily superb album, whilst the band’s treatment of Pete Seeger’s “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” deserves revisiting again and again, lest we forget.