Neal Casal, musical ‘true believer,’ dies at the age of 50

NEAL CASAL, 1968-2019

Denville native Neal Casal — a solo artist as well as a member of groups such as Ryan Adams & the Cardinals and the Chris Robinson Brotherhood — has died at the age of 50, it was announced this morning via social media. The cause of death has not been announced yet.

“Oh man. My heart is broken. What an honor to have known you, true believer. I love you,” tweeted Adams.

Railroad Earth posted on Facebook that Casal “was a brother and dear friend, a relationship that spanned decades with some of us in Railroad Earth. A wonderfully gifted musician and artist that made everything he was a part of so much better for his talents, he created a soulful presence through his guitar, his voice, and the camera lens. He was a genuinely gentle and kind person, someone you felt you knew in an instant. That was truly his gift and it permeated everything he touched.”

Shooter Jennings posted on Instagram: “I am absolutely devastated with the news of the loss of my dear friend and consistent collaborator @nealcasal — he was always my favorite picker in LA and we’d all just finished some beautiful music together.”

Some of the many other artists Casal worked with included Phil Lesh, Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Robert Randolph and Tift Merritt. The singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist played most recently with Circles Around the Sun and Oteil Burbridge & Friends at last week’s Lockn’ Festival in Arrington, Va. (see video below).

I wrote about Casal several times for The Star-Ledger in the ’90s. He had played for a while with the Southern-rock band Blackfoot, and was trying to launch a solo career. I was particularly impressed by his 1995 debut solo album, Fade Away Diamond Time (see “Maybe California,” which was on it, below). It was on a major label (Zoo/BMG) and seemed, in some ways, like a throwback to the thoughtful, artfully textured country-rock of the 1970s. I thought it could really launch him, in a big way.

He later recorded for the New Jersey-based label, Buy or Die, and others. Squeezing solo projects between his work with others, he released 10 of his own albums, over the years, most recently in 2011.

Casal’s solo career never really took off, of course, but he developed a great reputation, anyway, and remained busy through the years. In 2010, he released a book of photos taken during his years touring and recording with Adams, titled “Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: A View of Other Windows.”

In 2012, when he was — as usual — involved in a number of different project, he gave an interview to American Songwriter, and said:

I just try to keep my standards high, and I do my best to only involve myself with things that I feel a strong connection to. It’s as simple as that. I have a lot of great friends who are really, really talented, so I get to revolve between my own music and these other people’s music. It’s nothing calculated, you know? It’s just a process of trying to live in the flow and make the best decisions I can while life rolls around.

At the moment, I’m so fortunate. I have my own record that I’m really proud of, and I get to be part of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, which is such an amazing thing to have happen to me. There’s a real high level of quality and creativity that goes down in that band. There’s a new Beachwood Sparks record coming out, and I played on that one, too. So between those three things alone — let alone the smaller projects iI have going on — that’s a pretty fortunate life to be living. I’m just grateful for everything that’s going down, and I’m doing my best every day to keep these projects alive … to keep this musical life going.

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