The title of this album seems like a joke -- it's bluegrass mandolin player Sam Bush who can play circles around other musicians, not the other way around -- until one listens to the leadoff title song, a thoughtful reflection on aging and the passage of time. But Bush does not stay with the ponderous tone of "Circles Around Me" for long. Rather, as of the second track, "Diamond Joe," he is off on a bluegrass/newgrass set that includes several tasty instrumentals ("The Old North Woods," "Blue Mountain," "Junior Heywood") along with some entertaining story-songs ("The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle," "Souvenir Bottles," "Apple Blossom"). "Gold Heart Locket" is a sad, lovely ballad. Toward the end of the disc, Bush turns more to showcases for his instrument, notably engaging in a mandolin/fiddle duet on "Apple Blossom" and, after telling the musician's story making up the lyrics of "Souvenir Bottles," taking off on an extended solo that stretches the track out beyond eight minutes. The final track, "Whisper My Name," clocks in at over seven minutes, but that's because there is a hidden bonus track, a lively reading of "Hot Tamales." Circles Around Me makes a good demonstration of Sam Bush's continuing mastery of the mandolin and his own niche in the bluegrass scene.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann