Soul SirkUS started originally as a project called PlanetUS which had Neal Schon, Deen Castronovo, Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony. They demoed a couple songs, but it ended abruptly when Sammy and Michael returned to their small side gig called Van Halen. Neal and Deen wanted to continue so they needed a singer. Then in January 2004 at the NAMM Convention in Anaheim, California. Neal had heard of Jeff Scott Soto thanks to Andrew McNiece at Melodicrock.com who was good friends with Jeff and mentioned it to Neal. At the NAMM Convention, Neal and Jeff met and jammed and the relationship between the two was born.
They pulled in the great bass player Marco Mendoza and now the band was complete. They recorded 11 songs and changed the name from PlanetUS to Soul SirkUS. The name had to have the US in the name as Neal wanted to show this as a continuation of what he started with PlanetUS. The Soul Sirkus parts each start with an S to represent Neal Schon and Jeff Scott Soto. They spent time writing together, Neal on music and Soto on lyrics, but from what I gather, it was recorded in two days!! That is impressive. The album was complete and released on December 7, 2004. The cover was black which is different than the copy I have and I still need to get that copy.
While rehearsing for a tour, Deen Castronovo was exhausted and his health was not great after the long Journey tour that he and Neal just recently finished. Deen stepped away. But no one wanted the project to end so they recruited drummer Virgil Donati most notably from the band Planet X. The band didn’t want to go on the road as a band and support an album that not every member played on so they went back in the studio and had Virgil re-do all the drum parts. This gave them time to do a couple new songs as well. They re-released the album in March 2005 and this time the cover was a bright yellow and there were now 16 songs and not just the original 11 tracks.
The album kicks off with the title track, “World Play”, which is an instrumental. A very atmospheric sounding with some cool licks from Schon and some angelic like vocals softly in the background. Then it goes straight in to the song “Higher Ground” which is about a bandmate (or lover) that you can’t stand being around and not sure why you still hang around. But you take the higher ground to make it work. It is a rocker and very melodic. The production is fantastic as it is smooth and slick, a well polished machine. You can hear the bass, the drum fills and Neal’s guitar tone. A great opening track that really paints a picture of what is about to come.
Keeping things moving along is “New Position” which is about a former artist that Jeff had the utmost respect for, but over time that respect wained and when asked to work with this person again, there was no hope as all respect for them was gone. The opening barrage of drums is totally killer and then the full band comes roaring in and totally rock things out. A high energy, fast paced track that leaves you exhausted by the end. Jeff’s vocals are aggressive and the lyrics flow fast and furious to keep the timing with the tempo of the song. How Jeff does it and not tire is amazing. A totally killer track.
“Another World” is up next and it is about when someone dies, the feeling that they have crossed-over and now they are watching out for you. The opening guitar riff is rather cool. It is almost otherwordly sounding. Jeff sounds so serious on this one and he sounds so smooth and melodic and it shows why I like his vocals so much. The tempo is finally slowed, but it is still a rocker and has a Zeppelinesque groove to it. A pretty cool track and I see why they had this as a showcase song.
Then we get “Soul Goes On” which is about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel despite all the negativity in the world and since this was back in 2004, Soto was thinking about the war in Iraq and 9/11 in particular. I would consider this one the first ballad. It is introspective and the music is soft and has that same feel. Everything is played purposefully for the song. Soto sings thoughtfully and has never sounded better. Schon’s riffs and playing is top notch. It is a beautiful piece they came up with here.
Next up is “Alive” which is one of the new songs added to the re-release. This song is melodic rock perfection. It is heavy, groovy and a little funky. It gets the blood flowing again and makes you feel alive…maybe that was the intent all along. I love the Marco’s bass playing on this one as he really sets the tone here. Schon’s playing here is also exceptional but would you expect anything less. I think not.
“Periled Divide” is a song about truth and lies. Do you tell the truth and hurt a person, or lie to spare them the hurt feelings. It is a fine line we cross. It opens with a cool Schon riff, a soft drum beat and Soto laying down the opening verse with purpose. The chorus comes in softly and then the song finally breaks free and explodes into the full chorus. Soto is backing Soto as his vocals are layered in several times. The song does sound a little same old, same old at times and gets a little boring, however, I like it enough to keep it, but barely.
We get a song from the original PlanetUS with the Sammy Hagar co-write on “Peephole”. Jeff was going to re-write the lyrics, but couldn’t. He found the original lyrics to great and asked Sammy to keep it as is and so Soto doesn’t get a song writing credit on this one as he loved it the way it was. It is about a little girl who was deformed and the mom was so ashamed that she kept the girl locked in a closet and the only light she got was through that peephole. It is supposed to be a true story. Not only did Jeff keep the lyrics the same, but he sang it like Sammy did in the demo. Soto sounds like Hagar especially when he gets to the chorus as you will swear he is channelling Hagar, it is that good. A rocking song that adds another dimension to the band. A really cool track.
Then we get a pretty cool instrumental, “Abailar To’ Mundo”, that was written by Mr. Marco Mendoza. It is a bass heavy, funked up jam with Jeff scatting in the background (I assume) and Marco maybe scatting as well. It has some Latin vibes as well. It is a unique and interesting twist on the instrumental and I think adds to the excitement of this album.
“Friends 2 Lovers” comes roaring in next and it is about that one friend that you end up having feelings for, but can’t act on them as it would destroy that friendship. You watch them go in and out of relationships and it is difficult not to say something. Jeff’s vocals on this sound a little hollow and I think it is the production. It almost sounds like a demo vocal and I think it detracts from the song a little. I am sure it was purposefully done, but I don’t like it.
No denying what this song is about. “Praise” is about getting a little action, plain and simple. A heavy, rocker that gets down and dirty and a little nasty. Jeff attacks the song with a gusto and sounding like a dirty old man as he lusts over her body. And there is nothing wrong with that. “Good Gawd” there is no denying what they want from this one. Sometimes you have to get a little raunchy!
The bass heavy opening then goes straight in to the chorus. Another gritty rocker, “My Sanctuary”, is all about voyeurism and/or stalking…whichever you want I guess. A high energy song that is a little sexy and has a catchy chorus and then there is the killer solo where Schon goes all out and showboats like he should.
Now Jeff eventually fronts Journey thanks to the Schon relationship and it probably is a result of the next song, “Coming Home”. Soto channels Steve Perry here in the same way he channeled Hagar earlier. His vocals are so melodic I swear it is Perry at times. Musically, it is a Journey song as well. It reminds me of the “Raised on Radio” album. It is easy to see why Schon felt Soto could handle Journey songs live on tour. This was also the first song the two wrote together and Jeff apologized up front that he wasn’t trying to be a Perry clone. You could’ve fooled me.
Then we get the only Soto penned track he did by himself. It is the a cappella, “My Love, My Friend”. It sounds like something that could’ve come straight from one of his solo albums or even a Talisman track. This was also one of the new songs added to the re-release and doesn’t really fit with the tone of the original album, but still a great showcase of his vocals.
“Close the Door” is about 2nd Chances. I really like Schon’s tone on this one and a pretty cool riff. Jeff’s vocals are melodic as you’d expect and has a little echo to it at times. It is not an out and out rocker, but not a power ballad either. It lays somewhere in between. I guess it is AOR bliss. Soft rock, but not too soft.
Then after two empty tracks called “Soulspace” which is just dead air, we get a bonus track called “James Brown”. It is basically the band jamming and having a little fun,..like James Brown would have. It is funked up and Soto does his best James Brown impersonation with all the “oohs” and “aahs” and “Good Gawds” he can muster. It is a fun track though not a great one.
- World Play (Intro)
- Highest Ground – Keeper
- New Position – Keeper
- Another World – Keeper
- Soul Goes On – Keeper
- Alive – Keeper
- Periled Divide – Keeper (1/2 Point)
- Peephole – Keeper
- Abailar to’ Mundo – Keeper
- Friends 2 Lovers – Delete
- Praise – Keeper
- My Sanctuary – Keeper
- Coming Home – Keeper
- My Love, My Friend – Keeper
- Close the Door – Keeper
- James Brown – Keeper (1/2 Point)
The Track Score is 13 of 15 Tracks or 87%. Soto was on a roll at this point in his career. Everything he touched sounded like gold and was so well produced. From his solo album ‘Lost in the Translation’ to Talisman’s ‘Cats & Dogs” to this masterpiece. I had only discovered Soto a couple years earlier and everything he was releasing was getting better and better. Teaming up with Schon was magic and led to him getting the Journey gig before this relationship fell apart. Who knows what happened, but at least we go this project out of it which is one of my favorites from Soto. This was melodic perfection even when he was channelling Hagar and Perry at times. It was really great stuff. My Overall Score is 4.5 out of 5.0 Stars. A brilliant collaboration that everyone must have!!
My version also comes with a Bonus DVD that includes videos for the songs “New Position” and “Another World”. The DVD was basically an EPK (Electronic Press Kit) for the band with the videos as well as new interviews with the band members as well as a lot of behind the scenes shots. It is a great snapshot of the band for their brief moment in music history. I think it is a cool piece to have in the collection. The videos you can see above in the review. I definitely recommend getting this version if you are out hunting for the album.
Thanks for hanging around and the next Soto review is coming soon.
UP NEXT: TALISMAN – FIVE MEN LIVE (2005)
THE JEFF SCOTT SOTO SERIES:
- Panther – ‘Panther’ (1986) – recorded in 1984
- Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force – ‘Rising Force’ (1984)
- Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force – ‘Marching Out’ (1985)
- Kuni – ‘Lookin’ For Action’ (1988)
- Kryst the Conqueror – ‘Deliver Us From Evil’ (1989) / ‘Soldiers of Light: The Complete Recordings (2019)
- Eyes – ‘Eyes’ (1990)
- Eyes – “Nobody Said It Was Easy” (1990) – 7″ Single – Bonus Edition
- Talisman – ‘Talisman’ (1990)
- Talisman – “I’ll Be Waiting” (1990) – 7″ Single – Bonus Edition
- Skrapp Mettle – ‘Sensitive’ (1991)
- Axel Rudi Pell – ‘Eternal Prisoner’ (1992)
- Bakteria – ‘Deficate! Suffocate! Mutilate! Masturbate!’ (1992 / 2009)
- Eyes – ‘Windows of the Soul’ (1993)
- Talisman – ‘Genesis’ (1993)
- Axel Rudi Pell – ‘The Ballads’ (1993)
- Biker Mice From Mars – ‘Biker Mice From Mars (Soundtrack)’ (1993)
- Takara – ‘Eternal Faith’ (1993)
- Talisman – ‘5 Out Of 5 (Live in Japan)’ (1994)
- Talisman – ‘Humanimal’ (1994)
- Axel Rudi Pell – ‘Between the Walls’ (1994)
- Gary Schutt – ‘Sentimetal’ (1994)
- Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Love Parade’ (1994)
- Axel Rudi Pell – ‘Made in Germany (Live)’ (1995)
- Takara – ‘Taste of Heaven’ (1995)
- Talisman – ‘Life’ (1995)
- Axel Rudi Pell – ‘Black Moon Pyramid’ (1996)
- Human Clay – ‘Human Clay’ (1996)
- Talisman – ‘Best of’ (1996)
- Axel Rudi Pell – ‘Magic’ (1997)
- Human Clay – ‘U4IA’ (1997)
- Boogie Knights – ‘Welcome to the Jungle Boogie’ (1997)
- Takara – ‘Blind in Paradise’ (1998)
- Talisman – ‘Truth’ (1998)
- ‘Rock Star: Music from the Motion Picture (Soundtrack)’ – Various Artists (2001)
- Humanimal – ‘Humanimal’ (2002)
- Humanimal – Find My Way Home: Limited Edition E.P. (2002)
- Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Holding On E.P.’ (2002)
- Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Prism’ (2002)
- Talisman – ‘Live at Sweden Rock Festival’ (2002)
- Jeff Scott Soto – ‘JSS Live at the Gods 2002’ (2003)
- Talisman – ‘Cats & Dogs’ (2003)
- Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Believe in Me E.P.’ (2004)
- Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Lost in the Translation’ (2004)
- Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Live at the Queen Convention 2003’ (2004)
- Soul SirkUS – ‘World Play’ (2004/2005)
- Talisman – ‘Five Men Live’ (2005)
- Talisman – ‘World’s Best Kept Secret DVD (2005)
- Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Essential Ballads’ (2006)
- Journey – ‘Live from Atlanta (Bootleg)’ (2006)
- Talisman – ‘7’ (2006)
- Talisman – The Albums Ranked Worst to First
- Jeff Scott Soto – ‘B-Sides’ (2006)
- Redlist – ‘Ignorance’ (2007)
- Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Beautiful Mess’ (2009)
- Jeff Scott Soto – “21st Century” / “Gin & Tonic Sky” CD Single (2009) – Bonus Edition
- Jeff Scott Soto – ‘One Night in Madrid’ (2009)
- Trans-Siberian Orchestra – ‘Night Castle’ (2009)
- W.E.T. – ‘W.E.T.’ (2009)
- Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Live at Firefest 2008’ (2010)
- Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Damage Control’ (2012)
- W.E.T. – ‘Rise’ (2013)
- W.E.T. – ‘One Live in Stockholm’ (2014)
- Jeff Scott Soto – The Authorized Biography (2014)
- SOTO – ‘Inside the Vertigo’ (2015)
- Joel Hoekstra’s 13 – Dying to Live (2015)
- SOTO – ‘Divak’ (2016)
- Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Retribution’ (2017)
- Sons of Apollo – ‘Psychotic Symphony’ (2017)
- W.E.T. – ‘Earthrage’ (2018)
- SOTO – ‘Origami’ (2019)
- Sons of Apollo – ‘Live With the Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony’ (2019)
- Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Wide Away (In My Dreamland)’ (2020)
- Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Live and Loud in Milan 2019’ (2020)
- Sons of Apollo – ‘MMXX’ (2020)
- SOTO – ‘Revision’ (2020)
- W.E.T. – ‘Retransmission’ (2021)
- Jeff Scott Soto – ‘The Duets Collection, Vol. 1’ (2021)
- Jeff Scott Soto – ‘Complicated’ (2022)
- Ellefson/Soto – ‘Vacation in the Underground’ (2022)
- Jeff Scott Soto / Jason Bieler – Live In Concert (2022) – Bonus Edition