an album destined to be dismissed by most and cherished by only a select few...
Huw Jones

14:14 27th May 2009

Cass McCombs has been described as one of those rare artistes to continue in the greatest of American traditions and as tempting as it is to ‘insert joke here’ it’s difficult when discussing the ambitious storytelling that ‘Catacombs’ holds. His fourth album might not be one to instantly jump out of the speakers and into the heart or mind, but considered to be something of an auteur and hailed by many as a songwriters’ songwriter that’s hardly surprising.

Musician by trade and drifter by necessity, McCombs spends much of his time on the road, taking inspiration from the disparate environments that paint his city to city existence. Occupying an empty space of musicality with simplistic ease and melodic foresight, the appeal is held within the definitive freeform structure his poetic lyricism demands. Free of the restraints imposed by sense of place, time and theme his open dialogue, ambiguous at times and direct at others, is entirely captivating and wholly dependant on interpretation.

Heightened by an occasioned loose fit of enunciation a glorious jigsaw of half-heard conjecture follows and the desire to translate meaning is replaced with the need to simply listen. With the candid tongue of ‘Dreams Come True Girl’ (Karen Black providing guest vocals) and ‘You Saved My Life’, sincerity and celebration are established with near-lament and in striking contrast to the barren options outlined in ‘Don’t Vote’, the philosophy behind ‘Executioner’s Song’ and exemplary wordplay of ‘My Sister, My Spouse’.

Sidestepping fad and surpassing fashion, McCombs is furtively honest and unintentionally relishes in the mysterious and vague, persistently daring the recipient to delve deep beneath the vivid imagery of ‘Prima Donna’ and ‘Lionkiller Got Married’ to unearth the key to their hidden meanings, if indeed one exists.

With the fluidity of ‘Harmonia’ and gentle piano that underpins ‘Eaves Dropping On The Conversation’ this at times is prolifically demanding; the music unconsciously drifting above head height and the gravitas lost to the winds; that said it’s not only fitting but in keeping with a life spent on the road, an existence further outlined with the winking eye and glinting smile of ‘One Way To Go’.

Sadly an album to be dismissed by most and cherished by only a select few, ‘Catacombs’ can be described as a collection of conversations littered with semi-biographical admission, layered with compelling imagination and pulsing with refreshingly challenging authenticity.