Friends, peers and admirers alike have come together to honor the late guitarist and songwriter Neal Casal with a massive box set that pays tribute to his life’s work.
Spanning three CDs or five LPs, Highway Butterfly: The Songs of Neal Casal features never-before-released covers of 41 of his tracks, with contributions from a wide range of artists including Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and the Terrapin Family Band, Steve Earle and many more.
One of the standout covers on Highway Butterfly comes courtesy of young guitar virtuoso Marcus King who shares his take on Casal’s “No One Above You” from 2000’s Anytime Tomorrow.
You can hear the cover below.
The original is a slower-paced, acoustic-driven tune with Casal’s songwriting taking center stage. When King takes hold of “No One Above You” — with help from fellow guitarist Eric Krasno — he stays focused on the song’s lyrics while taking it to a new level, trading the acoustic side of things for his blues-soaked expertise.
“I was always a fan of Neal’s instrumental music and a fan of his as a guitarist,” King tells UCR. “But it wasn’t until I was asked to be part of this project that I truly dove into his work as a writer. I’m thankful for his music, and I’m so thrilled for the release of this album.”
Dave Schools, bassist and founding member of Widespread Panic, coproduced Highway Butterfly, and he recalls that King’s session was the last before the country shut down in the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Things were getting weird out in the world,” he explains. “We had our own little musical bubble going on at [coproducer] Jim Scott‘s studio. … Marcus and Eric were late, but when they finally showed up, we got to work arranging, rehearsing and recording “No One Above You.” The band was crackerjack and the tune was just soaring! It felt so soulful … and right on time.”
As much as fans will no doubt focus on King’s guitar work, Schools recognizes that the artist’s vocals shine on the cover, too. “He made the song resonate with soul and positivity,” he says. “We had a giant choir made up of many of the artists who had been participating in the recording sessions that week singing the chorus at the end of the song, and it took the track over the top. It felt special, and it was a great way to wrap up an already amazing week.”
King is modest as praise is heaped upon his performance.
“I feel so blessed and honored to have the opportunity to take part in an album celebrating the life and music of a great writer and a beautiful soul,” King says. “There are so many wonderful friends and musicians [on this album], and I’m humbled and privileged to be mentioned among [them].”
Casal released 14 solo albums during his lifetime and also served as a member of Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Circles Around the Sun and several other bands. His work is celebrated throughout the 41 tracks of Highway Butterfly: The Songs of Neal Casal. Fans will get a peek into his life with an accompanying 48-page booklet of lyrics, rare and unpublished photographs and an essay written by Jim Cardillo. The box set arrives on Nov. 12. All proceeds from sales will benefit the Neal Casal Music Foundation.
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