Beat Circus – The Boy From Black Mountain

January 01, 1970



Skewed traditionalist Brian Carpenter’s third album under
the Beat Circus name draws its inspiration from both past and future.  Its  righteous backbone – one-two bass, rackety
clattering drums, gospel harmonies, oompah brass bands and the swell and squeal
of fiddle – hails from the backwoods hymns and hoedowns of his agrarian
childhood.  The jittery modernity comes
from Carpenter’s close ties to Boston’s
multi-instrumented underground – and to his anxiety over a son diagnosed with
autism during the recording period.  


From Black Mountain
works best as a mad dash through old-time stage
sets, Carpenter’s uneasy narrator chased by pizzicato angst and “Flight of the
Bumblebee”-speed fiddle riffs as he hangs onto his stove-pipe hat.  “Petrified Man,” with its mad-cap banjo and
urgent blasts of harmonica, is a sepia-toned rampage, turned abruptly
post-modern with an abstract interval of trombone countpoints.  “The Quick and the Dead” starts with a
vertiginous late-classical swoop of strings – Paran Amirinazari on violin and
Jordan Voelker on viola – before speeding to a rockabilly gallop.  Carpenter’s sings in a bitter-edged baritone,
at times veering perilously towards Crash Test Dummies territory, but at others
infusing enough growl and bite to upend the comparison.  String band overloads and mordant folk
ballads are interspersed with brief instrumental interludes (“The Course of the
River”, “The Sound and the Fury”), where the classical influence shines through
most clearly.  Towards the end,
“Nantahala” successfully splices the crash and fury of rock guitars to complex,
multi-parted stringed arrangements, part prog, part jazz, part country but
mostly its own entity. 


The album creates a world of its own within the boundaries
of these 13 tracks, a jumped up  version
of a mythical American past that never was but should have been. 


“Petrified Man,” “Nantahala” JENNIFER KELLY


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