Crop Circles – Counterculture Country comes calling
Earl Brooks of Seattle band the Crop Circles did what any self-respecting musician would do. He dropped an advance of his bands first CD by the radio station in his hometown in Idaho. And after a few days, he called the guy and asked if he could have it back. It was pretty apparent that they werent going to play it. It was too hip. It makes sense, then, that the large oil painting hanging in Brooks apartment in Seattles Belltown is of Hank Williams. (Senior, that is.)
Such is life for the Crop Circles, one of the most promising new bands in Seattle. Bands of what Brooks calls counterculture country have flourished here, but have either dissolved or merged before they really gelled. The Crop Circles have cleared this hurdle in a short space. This six-piece band has been together for only a year, but their shows (and now their first album, the independent release Born With a Bad Heart) brim with solid songwriting, a wide range of sounds, and strong musicianship.
In addition to Brooks on acoustic guitar and vocals, the band includes Mike Birenbaum on keyboards, Lauren Deknatel on bass, Sean Sippel on drums, Arttu Tolonen on electric guitar, and Carolyn Wennblom on dual vocals. Originally, it started out as a three piece, with Sean and Arttu, Brooks said. Then we did a demo tape with Carolyns vocals and Mike on keyboards. I liked the sound so much that I wanted to keep em, so I did.
Sometimes playful, sometimes serious, sometimes both, chief songwriter Brooks and his cast of Circles serve up an intriguing mix of songs from originals to songs by little-known locals such as Dave Legg and Nick Vroman to a cover of Camper Van Beethovens When I Win the Lottery.
In regard to his own songs, Brooks concedes: Im not a guy that can just sit down and say Im gonna write a song about a truck driver today because Ill get two lines into it and thats it. I cant make it happen, but when it does, its quick. Hence the bands grasp of the genres strengths and, occasionally, its limitations.
Born With a Bad Heart reinforces the impression the band makes with its performances. Banjo, pedal steel and organ season the proceedings over the time-tested skills of the rhythm section of the late Blood of the Lamb Band. And when Tolonen isnt burning up the fretboard, Brooks and Wennblom dominate with split time behind the microphone. For her part, Wennblom just belts it out. The Circles cover of the Model Rockets Year of the Sofa, a superb nod to nostalgia, is remarkable in many ways, but perhaps mostly because of Wennbloms take on it.
Even if radio guys wont know the difference.