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05 Nov 2013

All Over the Place: Cass McCombs, Appearing at Pappy and Harriet's, Keeps on Genre-Jumping

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Cass McCombs. Cass McCombs.

Eccentricity can either be a gift—or a curse. For Cass McCombs, it’s thankfully a gift, as he proves on his latest album, Big Wheel and Others (Domino).

McCombs, who turned down an interview request from the Independent, has now turned in seven albums that have been generally well-received by critics and indie-music fans.

The album starts out with an audio clip from the 1969 documentary Sean, about a 4-year-old, Sean Farrell, who was raised in the San Francisco counterculture and was already a marijuana-user at that age. There are also two other audio clips of Farrell on the album. These odd inclusions prove that if you’re expecting rhyme, reason or a specific formula on a Cass McCombs album, forget it: He’s all over the place.

The first proper song, “Big Wheel,” is an Americana-meets-rock song about trucks, trucker life, bulldozers and other rigs. He proclaims: “What does it mean to be a man? How you going to tell me who I am?”

No track sounds the same, and the album becomes a hot mess of various genres, from country to jazz to psychedelic folk to rock. “Angel Blood” has the feel of a Gram Parsons song. “Morning Star” sounds like something you’d expect from Syd Barrett or Nick Drake. “The Burning of the Temple, 2012” feels like a Nick Cave song. By the time you reach the album’s halfway point with “It Means a Lot to Know You Care,” which feels like a guitar-jazz-instrumental you’d hear in some bistro, you may feel like you’ve been listening to an iTunes compilation by a magazine. 

The second half starts off with a beautiful, mellow song called “Dealing.” Two tracks later, “Satan Is My Toy” offers rock with a saxophone in the background. How much more bizarre can it get? The answer: Much more bizarre.

“Brighter!” is a track featuring Karen Black, the actress known for films such as Five Easy Pieces, Airport 1975 and Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses. While Black sadly passed away from cancer in August, she sounds very much alive on “Brighter!” which reminds of a ’70s country song. Her voice is top-notch.

As the 22-track album closes with “Unearthed,” which feels like a home-recorded psychedelic folk anthem, you may be left wondering what you just listened to. While audiophiles and open-minded music lovers will no doubt embrace this album, Big Wheel and Others is not what most people expect from a single album by a single artist. However, McCombs has been successful with this scatter-shot approach—and he should definitely be applauded for it.

Cass McCombs performs at 9 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 12, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit pappyandharriets.com.

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