Circles Around the Sun (CATS) announced their completed collaboration with drummer Joe Russo in July of 2019. Guitarist Neal Casal spoke of the band's excitement about the completely improvised session recorded at the drummer's Brooklyn studio. The band's and Russo's paths had been entwined for a decade via their work with various Grateful Dead side projects (Phil 'n' Friends, Further, etc.) and Cass McCombs. On August 26, three weeks after CATS had completed sessions for a third album, Casal took his own life.
Meets Joe Russo is an informal jam that is startling for its sheer musicality. Cut live from the floor in a single day, it showcases just how intuitive the interplay was between Casal, keyboardist Adam MacDougall, bassist Dan Horne, and drummer Mark Levy. The addition of Russo'a drumming only adds to that depth of field. Everything here is built on interlocking grooves. "When I Was at Peace," commences with jazzy, funky, clavinet and double snares. Casal's bluesy, psychedelic guitar playing engages the exploratory thrum of Horne's fleet-fingered bassline. "Get It Right the First Time," is led by the rhythm section: The drummers converse with call-and-response snares and kick drums to a rocksteady reggae groove provided by MacDougall's punchy Wurlitzer fills, Horne's strolling bassline, and Casal's spacy slide playing. "Added Addition" is the outlier. Commencing with fast-pulsing synth lines and chords, double-timed snare and tom-toms roil just under a driving bassline. His bandmates allow Casal to hover above them and pierce the proceedings at will. It's a trippy fusion track that intersects Tangram-era Tangerine Dream and Jeff Beck's Wired. Closer "Peace Reprise" combines everything that came before it. The drums continue their alternating polyrhythmic discussion while Casal and Horne challenge one another and MacDougall investigates all the players with various keyboards. He finds a spooky margin, opening the gate for psychedelic dub exploration. For 26 minutes this record travels the inner spaceways. Its mercurial grooves create a way forward for labyrinthian harmonic journeys. Russo's playing makes CATS all the more adventurous and simultaneously communicative. Although the band have decided to continue with Casal's friend Eric Krasno in the guitar chair, Meets Joe Russo is a coda, a record the late musician was excited about and proud of; it's also an album that reminds us of just who we lost with his passing.