Cass McCombs - Catacombs (Domino)

10 Jul 2009

"rather than display the unsettling influence of a life drudged up in the chalk grey lay-bys of concrete purgatory, catacombs is a fey stranger that walks unerringly forwards, into territories uncharted by the classic american singer-songwriter of yore..."; release -'09
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CatacombsA troubadour in the truest sense; McComb's nomadic flight across America's great plains and the cities growing pressures influence most of the rootsy, free flowing songs on this, his fourth album. But rather than display the unsettling influence of a life drudged up in the chalk grey lay-bys of concrete purgatory, Catacombs is a fey stranger that walks unerringly forwards, into territories uncharted by the classic American singer-songwriter of yore.

McCombs' art imitates life as he traverses America's decades in flushes of colour, 'Dreams-Come-True-Girl' enunciates the romance of longing hearts at every step; quietly lulling acoustics scratch across Karen Black's dwindling spark, McCombs falters and chokes into a Buckingham/Nicks revelry. Moments like this don't upset the balance, but distort the singer-songwriter tradition enough to warrant a foray further into Catacombs' dark, beguiling passages. With the female muse beside him, McCombs voice distorts incrementally: 'Prima Donna' slides along a finely balanced protest, sharpened by blasts of horn but unending in its observational discourse, whereas 'Harmonia' waxes similar, McCombs pleasantries all too familiar.

As McCombs undertakes a journey further away from acknowledged forms, narratives contort much more succinctly: 'You Saved My Life' is a John Hughes shot - zooming further into fairground rides and clasped hands, then further, to the knots of tightened stomachs. It's a bewitching trick, one not easy to repeat, but McCombs investigates the contrast between poetic and melodic; words blur and arrangements swell. 'The Executioner's Song' can be added to the large canon of unemployment songs, but never has one been done with such forlorn and succinct honesty, McCombs merely plays with words as the tick tock of labour chimes around him, and the Lionkiller of 2007's Dropping The Writ reappears in 'Lionkiller Got Married,' trading the baleful moments of American anguish for a very English insult, pummeled into a marching drum.

It's not always clear exactly what McCombs intentions are throughout Catacombs. Rather than be a poet, nomad, visionary or disillusioned musician, at times he's all and at times he's none, but the poetical beauty of something so unassuming in lilt as 'My Sister, My Spouse' shows that in all eventualities it doesn't really matter. "One way to go, yet so many roads" McComb s sings at the albums close: for now he's still travelling, and taking us along with him. For now, enjoy, the troubadour doesn't sit still for long.

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