Cass McCombs coined a
fragile, atmospheric style of folk singing that
at the same time sounded old-fashioned on the
six-song EP Not The Way (2002), containing the
mildly psychedelic Opium Flower, and especially on first album
A (Monitor, 2003), containing
the sleepy A Comedian Is Someone Who Tells Jokes and
especially the breezy When the Bible Was Wrote.
PREfection (2005) adopted dense, neurotic and almost chaotic
Phil Spector-esque arrangements for
Subtraction (that borrows the drumming impetus from the Supremes' You Can't Hurry Love),
Sacred Heart (propelled by poppy and jangling guitars),
the frenzied Bury Mary,
and the orchestral City of Brotherly Love.
Then Multiple Suns couples dark blues overtones with a Beatles-ian
progression, and Tourist Woman is almost hard-rock.
Dropping the Writ (2007) was a mediocre work of transition, with
Petrified Forest, That's That and little else.
Catacombs (2009) was mostly a turn for the mainstream,
with little of the tension and undercurrents that made its predecessor so
precious. Within the new framework,
the romantic Dreams Come True Girl (a throwback to the age of the
Everly Brothers and possibly the standout),
the waltzing You Saved My Life (the other contender for standout) and especially the
six-minute elegy Harmonia, that reinterpreted jangling folk-rock
and wailing country-rock,
worked well, but dozens of poppy singer-songwriters
were unloading similar stuff.
The piano is the dominant instrument on
Wit's End (2011), which also relies on chamber instruments.
The more sophisticated arrangements do not cause much of a change in tone:
they simply accompany the funereal procession of
Buried Alive (harpsichord),
the seven-minute Memory's Stain (accordion, clarinet, harmonium),
and of the rambling nine-minute A Knock Upon the Door (banjo, clarinet, organ, flute, percussion).
The notable exception is the falsetto soul of County Line.
If Nick Drake had made four albums, the fourth
one might have felt redundant too.
The more eclectic Humor Risk (2011) displayed more
verve in Love Thine Enemy and The Same Thing and especially
Meet Me at the Mannequin Gallery (a rocking tune by his standards).
Mystery Mail is the rambling narrative du jour.
The truth is that these verbose constructs are really meant as stories, not as
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