Cass McCombs – review

Deaf Institute, Manchester
The eclectic and prolific underground artist shows he can be jawdroppingly beautiful and rip-roaringly deadpan

A Caifornian in his mid-thirties, Cass McCombs is a genuinely underground artist. Over 11 years, he has released seven albums while living a nomadic existence: the backs of cars, Greyhound buses, other people's floors. Along the way, he has amassed a huge and eclectic body of work, taking in everything from Velvet Undergroundish chugging prettiness to slide guitar-soaked country to experiments with jazz sax and guitars that sound like fiddles. Big Wheel, the title song of his typically sprawling new 22-track double album, finds him extolling the joys of driving a bulldozer while pondering the nature of modern masculinity.

With his centre parting and check shirt, he looks like an archetypal lo-fi indie kid, but at times sounds like Lloyd Cole fronting Gram Parsons' country-rock pioneers the Flying Burrito Brothers. In near darkness, with no chatter between songs, McCombs doesn't exactly offer an exciting live experience, but his beguiling songs draw you in. He can be jawdroppingly beautiful and rip-roaringly deadpan. "Leave your husband and come with me," he suggests at one point. "What's it like to shit in space?" at another.

His songs don't all hit the spot, but gems come along regularly. Your Mother and Father, a hurtling, sublime tale of a young person leaving home, bears the hallmarks of Lou Reed. While McCombs seems perfectly happy to plough his own furrow, any number of his tunes could take the film or advert ticket to much wider exposure. A likely candidate might be County Line, a desolate song of travel after abandonment, which echoes the classic road songs Jimmy Webb penned for Glen Campbell. It certainly impresses one member of the audience, who salutes our unlikely hero by waving a flower in his face.

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Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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