This Wednesday sees a one-off performer in the shape of Cass McCombs pitch up at Leaf…
Labelled ‘unobtrusively brilliant’ by none other than John Peel, it’s perhaps hard to come up with a better description for the rare talent that is Cass McCombs; if that sounds damning with faint praise, we’re sure Peel meant nothing of the sort, and neither do we. But maybe it is a fair meditation on why the 34 year old Californian isn’t more widely known.
It’s true that much of his output is laced with understated beauty, and all the better for that quality. Dreams-Come-True-Girl from 2009’s Catacombs – for many the high water mark of his career so far – is a perfect example of the type of song-writing McCombs’ fans have come to expect. Low-key and affecting, unsuspecting listeners will be mysteriously left ‘fishing something out of their eye’, so moving is the fragile refrain of Karen Black’s share of the vocal.
Like the flip-side of the coin to Elliott Smith, another Domino Records signing, McCombs could easily be taken for occupying the same ground; even if the outlook is (narrowly) more sunshine than showers on the latter’s particular patch. Having said that, don’t expect all uplifting pop-riffs; this is the guy who in the past has declared his tombstone will read ‘home at last.’
Famed also for a certain aloofness and insularity, something you can’t complain about is his work-rate. Since signing to Domino in 2007, his output could be described conservatively as prolific, culminating in the release of two LP’s last year. Wit’s End was regarded in some quarters as one of the finest albums of 2011, with Humor Risk considered something of a sullen, if more technically gifted, twin.
Funny how under 300 words can paint an artist into a corner; in Cass’ case, a corner occupied by a mercurial, unknowable talent (he now conducts interviews by post). To paraphrase a painter we spoke to recently: “the more my work is viewed the more life it is given.” And we can’t help but think the same is true of McCombs’ songs. The more people get to hear his brand of faded-glamour and gothic Americana, the greater they and his legend become. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed he doesn’t reach his stated ‘home’ too soon.
Wednesday March 7th @ Leaf, Doors 7:30, with support from The Incredible String Band’s Mike Heron
Tickets £9 available from Probe, The Music Consortium & ticketline