posted on March 26, 2008 03:15
A review of Cass McCombs album 'Dropping The Writ'
Review Snapshot: Cass McCombs' career up to now may point to someone whose attention span never focuses on one place, or thing, for too long. Thankfully this doesn't apply to his new record. 'Dropping The Writ' is a fantastic ragbag of various styles and influences, but they're all blended together to create a collection that is unique and deserves to be heard by a wider audience.
The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10
Music lovers tend to appreciate when their favourite artists invest a little bit of their life story into their work.Think of Leonard Cohen recounting his numerous romantic encounters at the Chelsea Hotel, or Bob Dylan soundtracking a marriage on the precipice on 'Blood On The Tracks' for examples of music that touched the listener because they conveyed the kind of real life drama everyone can empathise with.
Californian troubadour Cass McCombs would certainly appeal to those who enjoy this kind of approach, as his work seems to be accompanied by numerous trials and tribulations which have been lifted straight from his diary. His biography is entitled 'Change & Survival' and chronicles the life of a young man who clearly has a restless spirit. Bouncing from coast to coast in the U.S., picking up and dropping musical partners from town to town, McCombs seems to treat his muse as a compass.
He returned to his hometown just long enough to to read dianetics (!) and record 'Dropping The Writ', his fourth and most satisfying release to date. It's been said that his music 'alternates between mania and wonder... with the humourous, wry use of stories plucked from his own life experience' and this certainly seems to be the case with 'Lionkiller', the opening track. It stomps along with a tough, bluesy riff as Cass hollers; "My grandfather cut the umbilical cord / and I took my first breath in the maternity ward... / I was encouraged to sing, I was a privileged soul". He dips further into his journals on the fantastic 'That's That'- as the reflecitve narrative continues; "I got a job cleaning toilets in a nightclub in Baltimore".
Perhaps the most impressive element about this album is how the evident influences are used to effect various styles and sounds, but the material on offer never descends into parody or pastiche. 'Pregnant Pause' gives off an acoustic vibe reminiscent of Elliott Smith and is topped off by a harmonica which could have been played by Neil Young himself, yet McCombs' authority and character is stamped all over it. A similar case occurs on 'Deseret' - the change in tempo and song structure points to the wayward spirit of Syd Barrett, but the track still sounds very much up to date.
There are numerous moments throughout that betray Cass' Californian roots. Check out 'Crick In My Neck' for hints of The Beach Boys and the late 60s/early 70s Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter scene. And just for good measure he ticks Americana off his to do list with 'Windfall'.
The standout factor about 'Dropping The Writ' is the pervading sense of a carefree attitude. Cass McCombs clearly treats his music seriously, yet the overall package gives the impression of someone who hasn't a worry in the world, least of all where the quality of his music is concerned. This album bears repeated listening. And in a musical scene full of joyless facsimiles of acts we loved from yesteryear, there is no higher compliment that can be paid.
To buy a new or (very reasonably priced) 2nd hand copy of this album on Amazon just click here.