Brian Carpenter formed Beat Circus shortly after his arrival in Boston in 2002 and since then, he's been the ever-changing ensemble's guiding light and sole constant member. Born into a large Southern Baptist family in rural Florida, he was raised on a steady diet of old-timey music and Southern Gospel. Throughout middle and high school, he played trumpet in school concert and jazz orchestras. When he settled in Gainesville in 1990 to study engineering, he soon became part of the fertile local music scene playing with bands like Less Than Jake, Aleka's Attic, What It Is, and Sister Hazel in the early part of the decade. During this time, Carpenter also organized one of the biggest music festivals of the Southeast, the "Gainesville Jazz & Pop Festival."
In 2001, Carpenter moved to Boston to direct a film documentary with a group of MIT and NYU film students on the life and legacy of Albert Ayler. From 2001-2005, he produced the free-form experimental radio show "Free Association" on WZBC-FM at Boston College. He also began collaborating with banjo player Brandon Seabrook, laying the foundation for the original Beat Circus line-up. Recruiting other players including Alec K. Redfearn (the Eyesores), Brian launched Beat Circus initially performing instrumental free-improvisations using traditional circus songs as a jumping-off point. After playing live in Cambridge throughout the summer of 2003, Beat Circus recorded its debut Ringleaders Revolt which was released the following year.
In 2005, Carpenter began composing music for Beat Circus, working out arrangements that now included vocal parts. The results would be Dreamland, produced by Martin Bisi. Dreamland, was a "fantastical, extravagant, largely instrumental circus/folk-song cycle about the infamous 1900s Coney Island theme park of the same name" (as the Boston Phoenix enthused). Dreamland marked the first installment in Brian's "Weird American Gothic" series and was released by Cuneiform Records in January 2008. Soon after the completion of Dreamland, Redfearn departed to focus on his own band The Eyesores, and Carpenter put together the current incarnation of Beat Circus who would then record Boy From Black Mountain. Taking over as lead vocalist, Brian brought in violinist Paran Amirinazari and violist Jordan Voelker (who also provide background vocals), trombonist Doug LaRosa, and the rockabilly-style rhythm section composed of upright bassist Paul Dilley (from Reverend Glasseye), guitarist/banjoist Andrew Stern, and drummer Gavin McCarthy (from Karate and Glorytellers).
BOY FROM BLACK MOUNTAIN
Boy From Black Mountain is the third release from the determinedly eclectic Boston-based ensemble Beat Circus. Beat Circus is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist / singer-songwriter Brian Carpenter. The music bridges a number of disparate genres including experimental music, Americana, cabaret, circus music, Appalachian string music, bluegrass music, old-time music, Southern Gospel, and funereal music. The current edition of the band features a unusual and versatile instrumentation. Brian brought in violinist Paran Amirinazari and violist Jordan Voelker (who also provide background vocals), trombonist Doug LaRosa, and the rockabilly-style rhythm section composed of upright bassist Paul Dilley, guitarist/banjoist Andrew Stern, and drummer Gavin McCarthy. The understatedly beautiful cover artwork and illustrations within the full color booklet are by Carson Ellis, known for her work on albums by The Decemberists
Boy From Black Mountain began shortly after Carpenter's son was diagnosed with autism in late 2006. He began writing songs inspired by the experience of living with his son during the time of diagnosis and treatment. Carpenter further dedicates the album to his father and grandparents, whose lives as watermelon farmers in the rural Bible Belt inspired some of the songs. This is a very artful-yet-accessible album with great lyrics, memorable songs and rich orchestrations. In addition to the songs are a handful of haunting instrumentals which help to frame the overall work of the songs to a larger canvas.
"With the release Boy From Black Mountain, the second album in [Brian Carpenter's] “Weird American Gothic” trilogy, Carpenter and his Beat Circus have created something completely unique and yet somehow amazing. Most concept albums fall short due to a lack of the artists understanding that while filling the concept lyrically and musically, the album still has to be listenable and captivating. Carpenter gets that. The lyrics...aren’t about some made up land or characters, but rather the life he has experienced... To bring the songs to life with a Southern Gothic feel, Carpenter has used a wide range of not so typical instruments that at any given time include accordion, viola, tuba, cello, and Chinese Suona. Wrap the odd instrumentation around a deep and dark lead vocal that is often times accompanied by a haunting soprano and this album comes alive. Concept albums are typically not my thing but this one delivers on every level from relatable lyrics to a well-crafted story of everyday life." – Guest List
"...the band mixes carnivalesque tunes with rock moments. The rich and tight orchestrations feature a Morricone-inspired combination of harmonica, viola, banjo, guitar, tuba, violin, trombone, upright bass, and drums." — The New Yorker
"Boston's circus of malcontents not only has the chops but features a fallen hellfire preacher/band leader (the captivating Brian Carpenter) who simultaneously channels Nick Cave and Johnny Cash." — The Village Voice
“ …tis a tale of dreams and nightmares, the conscious mind and the subconscious mind, responsibility and consequence.“ – Brian Carpenter, Beat CircusProduced by Martin Bisi, Beat Circus’ Dreamland is an astonishing CD: a dark American epic, cinematic in its scope. It is the first part in a Weird American Gothic trilogy of song cycles written by singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Brian Carpenter, the leader of Beat Circus – a band aligned with Boston’s internationally recognized post-cabaret music scene (The Dresden Dolls, Reverend Glasseye and HUMANWINE). The Dreamland song cycle is based on historical fact – real people and events in the turn of the century Coney Island amusement park of the same name – interwoven with Carpenter’s fictional tale of an impoverished, alcoholic gold miner who makes a pact with the devil before fleeing eastward to work in Dreamland’s sideshows. In Carpenter’s own words: “…tis a tale of dreams and nightmares, the conscious mind and the subconscious mind, responsibility and consequence.”
To bring his historical fiction to life, Carpenter created a 150 page musical score that blends Vaudeville, cabaret, parlor songs and other old-time, pre-jazz American popular musical forms with modern composition and post-rock. The resulting music is a surreal new-folk Americana, resounding and brutal in musical and emotional power. Blurring the lines between past and present, fact and fiction, nightmares and the American Dream, Beat Circus’ Dreamland exists in a perverse and magical netherworld, where reality shifts like sand on Coney Island’s wave-washed shore.
The historical facts underlying Dreamland read like surreal fiction. The original Dreamland, one of three grand amusement parks that forged Coney Island’s identity in the early 1900’s as America’s recreational escape, was built by Tammany Hall-connected businessman William H. Reynolds. It opened in 1904, a Utopian vision of all-white buildings dominated by a grandiose, beacon-lit tower that gleamed by day and glowed at night – a novel, awe-inspiring spectacle made possible by America’s newest invention, a million electric lights. Designed to entertain under an educational pretense, Dreamland was in fact “a surreal and macabre world of horrors and delights” that offered the public exotic (Alpine villages, Venetian canals) and improbable locales (a Lilliputian Village built for 300 dwarves), dangerous rides (the deadly Rough Rider) and ‘scientific’ and ‘technical’ exhibits (burning tenements featuring real New York City firefighters in action, a display of premature triplets in incubators). A religious and moral undercurrent coursed through it all; historian Adam Sandy described Dreamland as “the Bible brought to Brooklyn with hints of showmanship.” The park’s entrance – an arch formed by gigantic angel wings and capped by a colossal Statue of Liberty crown (America as dream-land, mankind’s gateway to redemption and rebirth!) – doubled as Creation, an attraction that took visitors on a journey through Genesis and the creation of the world. Another attraction, “opened by a fan of sobriety hoping to scare customers straight,” took visitors on a boat trip to Hell. In 1911, under Samuel Gumpertz’s new management, Dreamland closed to remodel and repaint its buildings in riotous color. At 2 AM on May 27th, the night before re-opening day, a fire broke out in Hell Gate during repairs and spread rapidly, burning Dreamland to the ground. Never rebuilt, Dreamland was replaced by a freak show and other, smaller attractions; the New York Aquarium now sits on Dreamland’s site. Dreamland has been commemorated in a documentary film by Ric Burns, a post card collection by Richard Snow, historical books and websites by Adam Sandy and others, and a ‘historical novel’, Dreamland, by Kevin Baker.
A lovingly compiled tribute, Beat Circus’ Dreamland may well be the first musical narrative/concept album devoted to Dreamland’s colorful past. Ironically, Beat Circus completed the CD in 2007 during what the Gotham Gazette called “Coney Island’s Summer of Reckoning”, as massive redevelopment plans were unveiled to erase all physical character – and characters – from Coney Island’s carnival past.
A full-length recording that contains 16 cuts of lyrical songs and through-composed instrumental music, Dreamland was produced & mixed by legendary NYC producer Martin Bisi (Sonic Youth, Swans, The Dresden Dolls, Barbez) and mastered by Fred Kevorkian at Avatar Studios in NYC. It features a pantheon of Carpenter's long and short-term collaborators, including the nine-piece Beat Circus and numerous special guests, including:
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