“Circles is a surely a sleeper hit. It took me months to wrap my head around it.”
— American Songwriter
You’ve heard mention of the “Heart of the South” aplenty. It’s something of a regional reference point, the geographic central organ of whatever context in which it’s breathed. It can simultaneously be the Georgia Piedmont and the Mississippi Delta. Maybe it’s where those hillbillies dwell up near the Great Smokies in the Appalachian Plateau. Just depends. On what you’re reading. Or seeing. Or listening to. On where that story happens to live. The Heart of the South can be anyplace, which basically means it’s every place. And if it’s every place, then maybe it ain’t a place at all. Maybe it’s a secret or an idea or some other intangible thing, cloistered away in the innermost chamber of the indigenous spirit. May very well be a birthright, that. Protected, localized, impossibly extracted or replicated by outsiders. We see it and hear it and feel it because those who can access it choose or feel compelled to tell it, in whatever version is theirs.
We don’t know what compelled Stephen Weibelt and Chris Johnson to build a makeshift studio in a makeshift shed in Leeds, Alabama – a state, as it were, that bills itself as the Heart of Dixie – and make music. But they did. As Colossal Gospel, the duo quietly and nearly anonymously recorded the songs that would become “Circles,” their debut LP. If psych-folk is LSD around a bonfire, “Circles” is a low dose of mushrooms on the front porch; a folkloric nu-gospel trip that pulses with the humid breath of a trueborn southern narrative.
In Colossal Gospel’s telling, the story is a sort of grounded fairytale, magic realism, maybe that meta-world that lives just beyond the margins, which prayers or thoughts seek to find. Its twilight more than dark, a touch (or three) merrier than the sweaty Southern Gothic macabre of its forebears. But it does pass under their looming, languid branches from time to time.