Curtis Eller's American Circus | Taking Up Serpents Again

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Taking Up Serpents Again

by Curtis Eller's American Circus

Banjo music for funerals by New York City's angriest yodelling banjo player
Genre: Rock: Americana
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Taking Up Serpents Again
3:40 $0.99
2. Hide That Scar
3:01 $0.99
3. Buster Keaton
4:39 $0.99
4. Sugar in My Coffin
3:35 $0.99
5. Coney Island Blue
4:30 $0.99
6. Stephen Foster
3:28 $0.99
7. Two of Us
5:03 $0.99
8. Amelia Earhart
4:37 $0.99
9. Red Red Robin
3:41 $0.99
10. Stagecoach
2:46 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Curtis Eller is New York City's angriest yodelling banjo player. He started his show business career at the age of seven as a juggler and acrobat, but has since turned to the banjo because that's where the money is.

Mr. Eller and his band "The American Circus" have appeared at funerals, horse races, burlesque shows and vaudeville revues. His biggest musical influences are Buster Keaton, Elvis Presley and Abraham Lincoln.

The album "Taking Up Serpents Again" proves the band capable of being recorded magnetically. Song subjects include, but are not limited to snake handling, Elvis Presley, Coney Island and Amelia Earhart's final flight. Sporadic yodelling and some strong language can be expected.



to write a review

Hi-Fi Rhizome

Ain't No Whiskey In His Water
Curtis Eller's American Circus released their 2nd full length disc titled Taking Up Serpents Again in late 2004. This release timed itself well, on the heels of the Presidential election. Mr. Eller started his show-business career at the age of seven as a juggler and acrobat in the Hiller Olde Tyme Circus in Detroit, but now finds himself with a banjo and a story to tell. A strong sense of American history leads his ability to tell wonderfully haunting and sometimes humorous stories while sprinkling a good helping of yodelling, tubas, accordions, pedal steel and rattlesnake rattles throughout. Plus, he has a handle bar moustache!

Sam Saunders-Whisperin' & Hollerin'

They shall Take Up Serpents and drink any deadly thing
They shall Take Up Serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." (Mark 16: 18)

To get a good enough bundle of serpents for a show you would need to live in a serpentine sort of continent like North America with abundant rattlesnakes and the bonus of banjos, bibles, juggling shows, silent movies, civil aviation, jazz, yodelling cowboys, comic books for grown ups: and more plumb crazy country singers than you could shake a forked stick at. Bibles and the rest notwithstanding, the banjo is a beautiful and plaintive thing. Sad and quiet songs are set on the edge between despair and glory by those hesitant dying notes and the unfeasible gaps between them. Not the shimmering Earl Scruggs steam train chrome plated banjo, but the provocative take as much time as you need banjo of politically angry, dramatically mesmerising, soulful voiced Curtis Eller. Each of Eller's top-drawer songs tells a story of loss, heartache, disappointment (yes, "that son-of-a-bitch" was re-elected), regret or foreboding. "Don’t no one remember Luna Park?" he moans on the delicious waltz of "Coney Island Blues". The voice and banjo are helped on their swaying way by the American Circus of accordion, a snare drum and a tuba and the tears flow as thick as nostalgia. It’s followed by the sprightly and uplifting line "This is the room where Stephen Foster died and this is the song that finally broke his pride". And so through the album. Lon Chaney, Buster Keaton, Amelia Earhart, Elvis Presley, Al Jolson, Fatty Arbuckle come and go in flickering vignettes of what could have been and could still be. But, praise be, it’s the "could still be" that the album leaves you with. Amelia Earhart "disappeared in a cloudbank and the static never cleared", but she did it with a lap steel guitar playing in the background and the sweetest funeral march harmonies you ever heard. There is hope as long as the songs are this good. Final track "Stagecoach" is the shortest, saddest and most personal of the songs. It’s a straight love song to make you shiver with cold and tremble with sadness. Where Eller's stage show is embellished and intensified by his surreal and physical theatricality his albums have the joys of some perfectly sympathetic musicians. I love this album to a fault.

Antony Mores-Folk It Up

The melodies will haunt you, the lyrics will inspire you
The album comes on the heels of the 2004 elections in ode to the next four years of the American approach to politics, and it notes a cynical optimism that conveys sadness and conviction. Mr. Eller’s ability to not only match his instrument to the emotion of the piece, but to also breathe new life into a traditional instrument is both refreshing and impressive. Through the more rocking beat of songs like ‘Hide That Scar’ and quiet odes like ‘Buster Keaton’ you can physically feel yourself being taken on a journey as the folk and bluegrass styles combine to form a powerful aphrodisiac to the senses. In the song ‘Sugar In My Coffin,’ one of my personal favorites, you hear a blend of traditional melody with modern sensibility. As always the lyrics compliment the music with a seamless flow. If this song in particular doesn’t make you tap your foot and dance, then odds are you’re dead. This album is essential for anyone who likes traditional folk music like Woody Guthrie, or the folk/swing fusion of Andrew Bird. It’s fresh, it’s upbeat, and it’ll make you hit the repeat button on more than one occasion. It’s a beautiful album that should be on everyone’s list of new music to check out. This is a must have album for anyone who’s ever claimed to like the banjo, folk music, swing, or just needs an excuse to dance a jig on occasion.

Philadelphia City Paper

Join this very different, very wonderful circus
This is Curtis Eller's American Circus, where the sad, eerie sides of the early 20th century -from snake handlers to Buster Keaton- come back from the grave in perfect waltz time. Eller's new self-released album, "Taking Up Serpents Again", features a gorgeous backdrop of harmony vocals, tuba, accordion, etc. Order the CD and get...the album's haunting "Amelia Earhart" ("Like a tombstone worn smooth by the years/ And I wish that I was Amelia Earhart/ 'Cause Charles Lindbergh lived his life in fear"). Catch the show, and you'll be ready to run away to join this very different, very wonderful circus.

Hazel Mullett

Truly a great record that will refuse to leave your cd player.
Spooky, haunting, hilarious, mezmorizing, lots of fun had by all.
From the rousing cajun feel of the song Stephen Foster, to the sad, yet hopeful song called Amelia Earhardt, Eller takes us on a journey of America's past heritage... while questioning where America is going with songs like the title track Taking Up Serpents Again and Sugar in My Coffin.
Truly a great record that will refuse to leave your cd player.

The Liar Society

Taking Up Serpents Again
Curtis Eller is one of the most dynamic solo performers I've ever seen. He has the rare ability to pull a hush over a bar crowd and keep them transfixed through an entire set. For a lanky banjo toting guy in the 21st century sporting baggy pants, suspenders, and a bushy animated mustache who sings about such anachronisms as pigeon racing, Buster Keaton, Jesus & circus elephants, that's quite an accomplishment! Especially since his only backup accompaniment is the spasmodic stomping of his own feet. Had he been born in the right time period, he'd have been a shoo-in for the big-time, maybe even a Hollywood silent era comedy star. But I digress...

When I picked up his latest album, Taking Up Serpents Again , I was afraid that Curtis's studio persona would pale in comparison to his live show. I needn't have worried. From the melancholy plucked opening strains and baleful yodeling of the title track to the frenetic polka pace of Sugar in My Coffin , this album showcases the full range of Curtis Eller's talents plus a great cast of backup characters all wrapped up in a neat little package beautifully designed by artist Jamie B. Wolcott . Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys moody music with a vintage, All-American-Circus flair.

Gracelette-Plan B Magazine

Coney Island ghosts from some gawky ex-circus boy
Delicious banjo-playing yodelling bar blues about Coney Island ghosts, sugar in his coffin and Buster Keaton from some gawky ex-circus boy with a handlebar mustache, vintage suit and inward-pointing toes? The sheer twee notalgia of it all might seem too much uless, like myself, you are nosaltigally twee and correctly accept this as an awesome propostion on the strenth of the band name alone. Don't let the biog fool you. This dude knows his shit; his 100-year old images so vivid you find yourself wondering how the fuck people slashed their wrists back when surgical instuments were dull as airplane cutlery, or whether there was screaming from, "The horses trapped in the salt mine when the company sealed the place". And what's more, this New Yorker's third album is filled with tunes! Kickass tunes! Not since last year's Hold Steady album have so many songs about so many doubtless dead people made me want to dance, drink whiskey with carnies, and start fights in bars with sawdust on the floor.

Bubs McCall

His song wiring just keeps gettin' better
As the previous two reviews state, this album is really great fun. My favorites include "Taking Up Serpents Again", "Buster Keaton" and "Sugar In My Coffin". Buy a couple of his songs - he's definitely worth checking out. Eller's live shows are very entertaining too, so if you get the chance go check him out. It'll be an evening to remember for sure!


Smart Witty and New
His is by far the best new album that I have purchased in years. Curtis takes inspiration from the Americana past and turns it into a new, fresh sound that no one is making right now. It is full of thoughtful, intelligent lyrics as well as amazing instruments and musical sounds. Who knew the banjo could rock! There is no other band I recommend more than Curtis Eller. I can't wait for more albums!

IRT Magazine

Gallows humor at it's best
A man, his banjo and tales of presidents gone mad and dead movie stars. Curtis Eller plays apocalyptic folk music that sounds like it comes form the depths of the great Depression, dusty with the drought and ash of dead dreams. But he still managed to make us laugh. Gallows humor at its best.
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