|Cass McCombs — Big Wheel & Others|
Cass McCombs — Big Wheel & Others
≡ West Coast singer/songwriter known for his haunting voice and intense songcraft.
Born: 1977 in Concord, California, United States
Instruments: Vocals, Guitar, Piano, various
Location: Concord, CA ~ Brooklyn, New York, NY, U.S.
Album release: October 15, 2013
Record Label: Domino Records
01. Sean I (0:59)
02. Big Wheel (3:40)
03. Angel Blood (3:43)
04. Morning Star (3:57)
05. The Burning Of The Temple, 2012 (6:03)
06. Brighter! (3:57)
07. There Can Be Only One (4:18)
08. Name Written In Water (2:53)
09. Joe Murder (5:52)
10. Everything Has To Be Just-So (9:00)
01. It Means A Lot To Know You Care (3:34)
02. Dealing (3:20)
03. Sooner Cheat Death Than Fool Love (3:12)
04. Satan Is My Toy (2:39)
05. Sean II (1:12)
06. Home On The Range (6:38)
07. Brighter! (feat. Karen Black) (3:51)
08. Untitled Spain Song (3:59)
09. Sean III (0:52)
10. Honesty Is No Excuse (5:24)
11. Aeon Of Aquarius Blues (3:37)
12. Unearthed (2:54)
♣ Karen Black Featured Artist, Vocals
♣ Tim Cedar Engineer
♣ Arthur Elletson Engineer
♣ Albert Herter Cover Art, Drawing
♣ Joe Lambert Mastering
♣ Perry Lubin Layout
♣ Chris Lux Titles
♣ Phil Lynott Composer
♣ Gabe Max Engineer
♣ Cass McCombs Composer, Guitar, Primary Artist, Producer, Vocals
♣ Sean Paulson Engineer
♣ Malcolm Pullinger Editing
♣ Ariel Rechtshaid Engineer
♣ Nicholas Vernhes Engineer
♣ Chet Jr. White Engineer, Mixing
≡ Gatefold CD jacket including 2 CDs and a 16 pg booklet featuring illustrations and album lyrics.
DOMINO MART EXCLUSIVE: Limited edition of 500.
≡ Vinyl jacket printed on Kraft Duplex paper stock by Stumptown Printers featuring:
— alternate album cover
— exclusive 7" containing unreleased tracks
— exclusive 8 pg booklet featuring illustrations by Albert Herter and album lyrics
— includes MP3 download card
Agent: Kevin French —
≡ "Big Wheel and Others is Cass' seventh-and-a-half album and the follow-up to the 2011's pair of releases Wit's End and Humor Risk. It comprises twenty-two songs, but "double album" implies bloat, prog, and concept, so, let's stick with "songs." This album is a bundle, a bindle, a hay bale, and an oil barrel of songs. Some of the genres that are to be found in varying degrees in the songs on this album are: Road songs, rock songs, folk songs, blues songs, country songs, rhythm and blues songs, skronk non-songs, cinema songs, cult songs, poem songs, jams, and ballads - to use however you wish."
≡ Un double-album tres varié et intriguant... A découvrir.
Review by Fred Thomas; Rating: ***
≡ Following a remarkably prolific 2011, which saw the release of not one but two strong–in–their–own–right full–length records (Wit's End and Humor Risk) from indie troubadour Cass McCombs, things got relatively quiet for the ever–evolving songwriter. His complexly poetic lyricism and subtly textured musicianship were in prime form on both albums, reaching into different places of darkness and humor. Two years later, Big Wheel and Others arrived; a sprawling 22–track collection that clocks in at almost 90 minutes and shows McCombs trying on different hats in his own established way of slowly unraveling his patient, aching compositions. It's an odd one. Beginning with a home-recorded spoken interview with a four-year-old, the album launches with a trio of repetitive Americana-seeped road rockers. The dusty churn of "Big Wheel," pedal steel-glazed softness of "Angel Blood," and dark lumbering tones of "Morning Star" set the listener up for an understated album of cowboy songs and clean, country-tinged melodies delivered from a distance. Before sinking into any one mode, however, McCombs quickly shifts gears with the saxophone-aided amble of "The Burning of the Temple, 2012," breezy dad–rock with the Graceland-esque instrumentation of "There Can Be Only One," and eventually the disorientingly lengthy sermon/poem/song cycle of "Everything Has to Be Just-So." This song riffs on for almost nine minutes, with a Dylan-via-Lou Reed monotone delivery on race, society, and individual perception. The song's mismatched segments persist for so long that they go from potentially grating to strangely lulling, not unlike Gillian Welch's ghostly epic "I Dream a Highway" or Dylan's "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," songs that stick around so much longer than expected that they become meditations unto themselves. It's an unexpected highlight of the album, and is followed immediately by the head-scratching instrumental pseudo-smooth jazz of "It Means a Lot to Know You Care." That's not the only bizarre sidestep of the extensive set. The lyrics of the almost unlistenable sleaze rock romp of "Satan Is My Toy" experiment with the meeting of religious and sexual themes only a few notches above AC/DC's locker-room innuendo, and almost every time the arrangements veer away from sleepy acoustic instruments, the shifts can be jarring. The issue with Big Wheel is that the standout tracks are as brilliant as the filler is confusing, and both are represented more or less equally. A loving cover of Thin Lizzy's "Honesty Is No Excuse" is delivered with the same shambling feel as Dylan's Self Portrait material, and Karen Black contributes lead vocals to one of two versions here of the especially strong "Brighter!," but every fantastic song is cushioned by an anonymous-feeling mediocre one. While those already enamored with McCombs' lyrical approach and subdued songwriting might find more of immediate value here than the uninitiated, there's a lot to sift through, even for fans, and it might be difficult to keep focus through the entire sometimes befuddling set.
By OTIS HART; October 06, 201311:00 PM
≡ His essentially anonymous — an innocuous drifter with a poet's wit. Ten years into a singular songwriting career, he continues to shrug off any craving for context: There's no real backstory other than his lack of interest in backstory. McCombs writes, records and releases music; nothing to see here.
≡ But there's so much to hear, as a lack of known facts begets endless interpretation of fiction. McCombs' songs can be decoded every which way but true, with every listen complicating the one before it. There's no reveal, just an endless game of strip poker.
≡ Big Wheel and Others is McCombs' latest collection of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, and almost definitely his best. In the past, McCombs has often prioritized opaque expression over earworms. Not the case here: Most of these 19 songs (plus three excerpts from the 1970 documentary Sean) are destined to be hummed. No hit singles like "County Line" or "Dreams Come True Girl" turn up in the mix, but perfect songs can often diminish the rougher cuts surrounding them. Big Wheel opts for consistency, with one great song after another and nothing paling in comparison.
≡ Still, highlights abound. "Brighter" features the dearly departed actress Karen Black, who lost a battle with cancer earlier this year and to whom McCombs dedicates this album. "There Can Be Only One" is all bongos and bass, and might just be played at a wedding someday. "Morning Star" boasts Phish's Mike Gordon on bass, which is kind of hilarious, and every time Kevin Bouley's saxophone makes an appearance, an angel gets its wings.
≡ At 85 minutes, Big Wheel and Others is a doozy, so don't force yourself to absorb the entire collection at once. Come and go as you please. McCombs wouldn't have it any other way. (http://www.npr.org/)
Songwriter Cass McCombs Offers His Best Work to Date With Big Wheel and Others
By Aaron Frank; Wednesday, Oct 9 2013
≡ Art can often be a constant process of refinement, but Cass McCombs has finally perfected his approach. This week, the 35–year–old singer–songwriter is set to release his most ambitious project to date, a sprawling two-disc album titled Big Wheel and Others. On none of his previous albums has the California-–orn, Brooklyn–based drifter so finely honed his songwriting talent.
≡ With his 2008 breakthrough, Catacombs, McCombs found a balance between two of his strongest abilities: haunting love ballads like “Dreams–Come–True Girl,” and poignant character studies like “Jonesy Boy” and “Lionkiller Got Married.” Big Wheel and Others is a more focused culmination of these abilities, but it also marks a new chapter in his career.
≡ In the past, McCombs's songs have, more often than not, been a reflection of the artist and society at large. But new songs like "Big Wheel" are strikingly direct. McCombs has a unique talent for inhabiting characters, but on Big Wheel and Others, the voice is usually his own, the lyrics bolder and more sincere.
≡ McCombs has been painted as a misanthrope in the media, mainly because of his reticence toward interviews and social media. But in conversation after a surprise performance at Bar4 in Brooklyn, there's no smoke screen, no façade. He has the air of an artist comfortable in his own skin, unencumbered by the Internet's mix of nasty comments and empty back-patting.
≡ Considering his stance on social media, you would think he'd be up for trashing it a little bit. But weeks later, over the phone from LA, he simply says it's not for him.
≡ "To each his own," McCombs explains. "I play music. That's how I communicate with people."
≡ While clearly dodging the question, he's also got a point. When you make music as intensely revealing as his, there's really no need for constant elucidation. In a perfect world, most artists would share this view, but we live an age of oversharing where the curtain is always up, which makes McCombs one of very few artists to save all of his bleeding for the music.
≡ This can make navigating an interview with him somewhat tricky. (His publicist once told a Nashville publication that McCombs would only conduct interviews with female journalists because it allowed him to open up more and speak more freely.)
It's a bit of a coup to even get him on the phone.
≡ There are rules, though. No questions about who played on the album or where he lives. He wants to talk "ideas in music on a universal level."
≡ McCombs recently injured his hand skateboarding, and he explains he doesn't believe in Western medicine. He's been visiting shamans who have recommended herbs and a strict diet of hot food. He's toyed around with meditation as well, but playing music, he says, is already quite meditative.
≡ Onstage, it's clear what he means. Even while wincing through a six-song set at Bar4, he locked into the hard-stomping groove on "Big Wheel" with eyes closed, head bobbing side to side.
≡ "That's really where it happens for me," he says. "I don't really feel like I can totally express myself in a studio. I'd rather be onstage."
≡ As the opener on his new album, "Big Wheel" is at once its centerpiece and also something of a mission statement. Hearkening back to McCombs's early 20s, when he worked brief stints as a construction worker and a truck driver, the lyrics consist of shout-outs to steamrollers, bulldozers, and "driving far alone" intertwined with a peacenik ideology that has colored much of his recent work, including a tribute to jailed folk hero Chelsea Manning.
≡ Since the early 2000s, McCombs's creativity has thrived on his penchant for traveling. Though he divides most of his time between LA and New York, when he isn't touring he often sets out driving cross-country, crashing on couches, visiting friends and writing songs along the way.
≡ "Traveling and continuing to travel and listening to people's stories has truly affected the way I write songs, because I'm able to directly put people's stories into a song," he says. "It's very direct."
≡ In his lyrics, McCombs adopts the voices of people he meets on the road: outcasts, rejects, those relegated to the fringe of society, whose existence says something about where we are or might be heading. On another new song , "Joe Murder," he sings about a drug dealer who cuts his product with milk sugar. "Such a frugal drifter," he sings. "But not all who wander are lost."
≡ McCombs says one of the most inspiring people he met while traveling was cult actress Karen Black, with whom he collaborated on Catacombs for "Dreams-Come-True-Girl." In the late stages of the ampullary cancer that took her life in August, Black contributed vocals to "Brighter!" on Big Wheel and Others, casually ad-libbing the line "brighter my ass."
≡ "Every person she met, she instilled in them a sense of dignity," McCombs reflects. "She didn't project any amount of hatred, although we had once talked about writing a 'Fuck You' song. She was just so open to feeling things and expressing herself that the idea of writing a 'Fuck You' song probably sounded fun and light to her."
≡ Producer Ariel Rechtshaid was on hand to record Black's vocals. He explains the process as difficult, considering the rapid deterioration of her health.
≡ "She just taught me so much," McCombs adds. "Karen was probably the most interesting and caring person I ever met."
≡ Black lives on in his music among an assortment of colorful characters. Considering her influence on McCombs, it feels appropriate for her last recording to appear on his best work to date.
≡ McCombs lets it slip that his secret to better songs lies in sharpening his focus on writing. “I’m spending more time on it,” he says. The more he talks about songwriting, the more it sounds like he's actually talking about his life. “I want to test boundaries in myself, and I want to challenge my own pillars of morality. I’m not satisfied with any kind of structure.”
BY ANDREW HANNAH, 8 OCTOBER 2013; Rating: 6/10
Reviewed by James Oldham; 11 October 2013
• A (2003)
• PREfection (2005)
• Dropping the Writ (2007)
• Catacombs (2009)
• Wit's End (2011)
• Humor Risk (2011)
• Big Wheel and Others (2013)
• Not the Way E.P. (2002)
|Cass McCombs — Big Wheel & Others|