October 20, 2013

Cass McCombs, "Big Wheel and Others"

The California son pumps out another one, and it's big. This is a double album, not like that really means anything now that everything's gone digital. But still, there are a lot of songs here. Thankfully, they're almost all crackerjacks. Right at the top is the title tune, "Big Wheel," which bounces along and brims with really tasteful playing. Next is the stellar "Angel Blood," a drum-less, acoustic midtempo thing with liberal washes of pedal steel to tie everything together. The first two tunes set a mood: western, wistful, dreamy. They also set a high mark, and the whole record follows with perfect instrument parts all played and recorded just beautifully. I really like the variety of rhythms on the record — not tempos, because almost everything is at that familiar Cass McCombs lope, but rhythms. There are very few traditional "rock" rhythms on the record. Instead, we get a variety of percussion styles and flavors, which is a great choice since it keeps things from getting fatigued over the marathon hour-and-a-half playing time. I've seen Cass play live a few times over the last couple of years, and one highlight of the recent sets is "Joe Murder," which shows up about half way through in a creepy and powerful arrangement. There's a sax solo inside of it that goes off like a paint grenade. Later in the record are more highlights like the genuinely groovy, "It Means a Lot to Know You Care," and the gorgeous "Brighter!" which pops up twice, sung once by Cass and once by Karen Black. She even does that very Cass thing, where the vocal part suddenly shoots straight up an octave to deliver a line. And she does it the same way he does it: swiftly and with effortless grace. It's endearing, and will hopefully make you grin the same as it did me.