Cass McCombs: Tip of the Sphere
Over the last several years, Cass McCombs has quietly blossomed into one of the most gifted songwriters out there. He’s prolific, too. Tip of the Sphere is his sixth album in less than 10 years, and ninth overall since his 2003 debut, A . Recorded in Brooklyn, Sphere enlists the talents of co-producer and bassist Dan Horne, drummer Otto Hauser and Frank LoCrasto on keys. The sound McCombs has cultivated this time around has a countryrock flair brimming throughout the arrangements, something new for the musician. He’s also exploring some dark issues here, such as suicide, Armageddon, reincarnation and his own identity. But it’s not personal, per se—McCombs frames these issues in narratives like “The Great Pixley Train Robbery,” a throwback tale about a crew of robbers who escape to Hawaii, or the atmospheric “Sleeping Volcanoes,” a Lou Reedstyle number that sounds like a twisted lullaby about “coo-coo land.” But the album’s highlight comes at the end—the last track, “Rounder,” is a 10-minute Neil Young homage which demonstrates that McCombs and his new crew can jam if they want to. The lyrics cease at the four-minute mark, leaving six minutes of electric guitar noodling over a desert-twang rhythm. It’s a fine way to go out and just the latest stylistic shift for this ever-prolific artist.