Dispatch is one of those bands that you have either heard and love, or have never heard of, and need to. Their non-commercial following is one of music’s strongest to this day, even after taking a ten year hiatus as a band, and that’s saying a lot.
Chad Urmston, Pete Heimbold, and Brad Corrigan, the multi-instrumentalist/vocalist trio, started the band in college back in 1996, and developed a rabid following thanks to their unique style and incredible live shows. Their mix of folk, reggae, acoustic, and a bit of funk blended perfectly, as did their three part harmonies, and they released four albums including Bang Bang and Who Are We Living For?, their final album in 2000. Rather than become the “next Dave Matthews Band,” and finding a marketable niche, they stayed true to their own style. Big hits like “The General” and “Bang Bang” became crowd favorites, but at the height of their popularity, the band called it quits.
When they went their separate ways, they all stuck to music: Urmston continued more of a reggae vibe with State Radio and his solo project, Chadwick Stokes; Heimbold released a few solo acoustic/songwriter albums under the name Pete Francis; and Brad Corrigan continued making tunes as Braddigan.
Much to fans’ excitement, the trio came back together for a few concerts for causes they supported in 2007, and the official announcement came out that they would be re-banding in 2011 for a full reunion tour, with a new album in the near future. The wait is over, and Circles Around The Sun is here.
As a comprehensive disc, Circles is almost nothing like their past efforts. For fans that want to only hear rehashes of “The General,” it will be a disappointment, but for fans with open minds, this album shows a brand new maturity that only time apart can give. The ten-song LP is the perfect segue from what each of the members were doing on their own, but baked together at the perfect temperature to make the whole so much more than the sum of Dispatch’s parts.
Continuing their strong support of social causes and raising awareness of issues they care about, the title track is all about their recently deceased friend, Larry Perry. The track is much more rambunctious than their usual fare, sounding a bit more like State Radio, but it tells the story of Larry, a young disabled man, who was unwillingly sent into space as a test subject for NASA. Not only did Larry survive, but he came back “triumphant and smiling,” and serves as an ode for the entire album.
From there, “Not Messin” plays up the slide guitar, and with more of dark bluesy edge to it, and “Sign of the Times” furthers that atmosphere with breathy vocals and a message about the state of our world today. It isn’t until “Josaphine,” that we really hear the old Dispatch, with its mellow vibe and some pretty vocal harmonies.
Then the tone gets even darker, with the haunting track “Flag,” recounting the Sand Creek Massacre in the 1860’s, where a Colorado militia group killed a 250-person village full of friendly Native Americans. The horrific event serves as the inspiration for working past tragedy and enlightening the culture of an entire people. Raising awareness has always been a Dispatch mainstay, and even sixteen years after their inception, they continue to remain true to their causes.
The album ends on more mellow tones, with the last few songs sounding more like the artists’ solo work. One standout is “We Hold A Gun,” which delves into the issue of education in our country, and the growing responsibility that teachers are made to bear in today’s society. They sing about “fences and walls” that are put up, and telling “them to run as you tie their feet,” bringing both a weightiness and frustration to the pretty piano-driven melody. Overall, the album sounds a bit more produced than any of their past outings, but coming from a true live band at heart, it’s only a matter of time before these ten songs become further tools in the band’s already rich repertoire.
Try This Track: “Flag”