Cass McCombs - Big Wheel and Others
- Alan Laidlaw
- 25 October 2013
The prolific Americana musician delivers a fragmented postcard of Middle America
In 2011 Cass McCombs released two albums within the space of seven months. Both of which were good, if not great albums, firmly placing him as one of the most consistent and productive songwriters of his generation. Two years on, with this double album Big Wheel and Others, McCombs displays a new level of craft that elevates him to heights above and beyond his contemporaries showing that maturity and restraint can go a long way to create a truer reflection of artistic intentions.
The album begins with ‘Big Wheel’, one of the more conventionally structured tracks on the album. Here we find McCombs hinting at a Dylan-esque droll, which is largely supported by a new found conviction and assuredness in lyrical delivery played over an insistent jazzy, alt-country riff that evolves into a mantra like calling beneath McComb’s sentiments. This is not the only time that McCombs creates an audible effigy of a musical greats, in ‘Name Written in the Water’ he channels the haunting vocal spirit of Arthur Russell, and on ‘Everything Has to be Just So’ we see him put on the effortless swagger of Lou Reed.
Sprinkled throughout with elements of jazz, blues and avant-garde noise, Big Wheel and Others explores and reworks everything that McCombs has shown in previous efforts, this time bringing them all together to simmer gently instead of allowing it to come to the surface and boil over. McCombs packs a lot of ideas and influences into an album, which although constantly shifts and evolves, never feeling unfocused and incoherent, a glaring testament to the understated and oft overlooked talent and virtuosity of his songwriting and his ability to create albums which serve as complete works of art. The album plays out like a fragmented postcard of Middle America, tracing the roots of a country which has perhaps forgotten where it’s come from and doesn’t exactly know where it’s going. In desolated bars, overpopulated cities and undernourished wastelands, McCombs observes and experiences all that is dear to his homeland, inviting us to bask under his warming vision.
This album is certainly long, and will at times test the listener’s concentration span, but there is no need to be attentive to every utterance from McCombs. Let each track wash over you; grant it the time space to nestle in your mind and become part of your subconscious, and soon it will take shape as the impressionistic wonder it is. McCombs intentions are not to come to offer exact answers to the big questions, but to celebrate a mind fractured by geography, history and time.
Cass McCombs will play the CCA, Glasgow, Thu 9 Jan 2014.