Cass McCombs CD reviewed by Luc Rodgers

Music Reviews
Cass McCombs CD reviewed by Luc Rodgers
Oct 4, 2007, 02:38

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CASS MCCOMBS Dropping the Writ CD

With the opening line “I was born in a hospital/That was very big and white…” Cass McCombs is insinuating that songwriters are merely born, but as he skips coast to coast it would seem that it's possible that they're also made. On his latest, Dropping the Writ, McCombs has taken everything from his past, the over-hyped A (Monitor, 2003) to 2005's over-crooned PREfection (Monitor/4AD), and reworked it into a new collection that seems to be what he, and the listeners, have been wanting from him since the beginning.

The rambling semi-truck guitar stampede “Lionkiller” opens everything with fireworks that, in the sky, spell CELEBRATION. The classic 60's vocal reverb adds a tinge of familiarity while the buzzing, distant synthesizer guarantees that safety is a fleeting moment. The organ then answers the call and ends the spectacle with a resounding, inverted doubling of the continuous guitar ruckus. A welcome quiet settles the heart and ears into “Pregnant Pause” where one hears the versatility and softness in his voice. While the rim shots and plucking guitar construct a wintertime hand-holding pitter-patter, the changes and scales reflect more of a Harry Nilsson and Richard Swift mood giving the song a timeless feel.

The first single, “That's That” is head-on with its floor tom and bass driven opening verse. Departing into a harmonic, swirling vocal chorus certainly adds beauty and sheen but the quick change into “…I got a job cleaning toilets/At a night club in Baltimore” grounds the high-in-the-clouds head while the sympathetic, deep Telecaster pats the shoulder and welcomes you back. The juxtaposition adds a spark and a curiosity perfectly matching the mysterious honesty in his style of stark storytelling.

“Petrified Forest” and “Morning shadows” showcases his bare-bones guy-with guitar abilities; letting the vocals carry the song rather than resorting to the piling on of instruments to perk the ears keeps the element of truth intertwined in the threads of his grandiose production. While these, along with the latter “Windfall,” are the least fresh sounding tracks on the record, the strength of his writing is enough that they are not at all forgettable, merely overshadowed by their anthemic cousins.

The kaleidoscopic “Deseret” surely tips its hat to the vocal interplay of Brian Wilson's excursions, but as it progresses into a more cohesive brushed drum rhythm and gentle bell twinkles it sheds all likeness and becomes yet another genuinely enjoyable romp through the McComb mindset. “Crick in My Neck” flavors the release with a straight-forward rock song that has all the signs of being a powerful live closer and is sure to be a song, unfortunately, singly downloaded for just that reason. “Full Moon or Infinity” balances the line of modern freak folk and contemporary psyche as it trollops through the ever-present outdoors that these urban-dwelling songwriters seem to constantly find themselves in. The closer, “Wheel of Fortune,” utilizes everything used up to this point and celebrates it in a short, but not crowded, six minutes. Interspersed are cards shuffling (?), hammers building (?), and a shaken spray paint can (?) to fill it out until he returns to repeating the chorus as a final bow to a heartfelt performance.

While his past albums hinted at something special happening in this Mr. Cass McCombs, nothing really came of it. The records were good, if only for a few listens, but nothing spectacular kept them afloat for long. Dropping the Writ demands a reintroduction: here is Cass McCombs—singer, songwriter, and, above all else, exciting American voice. [Domino]

-Luc Rodgers

Dropping the Writ

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