Cass McCombs opens his ambitious new album with (partial) title track Big Wheel set to the tempo of a big ol’ trucker song. “I dig the taste of diesel and the sound of big rigs,” McCombs sings as he starts us on a journey through almost an hour and a half and one of the more intriguing releases this year. Big Wheel and Others is not a concept album and, really, the only unifying aspect about the lengthy record is that it’s a lot of good songs by one of America’s best singer-songwriters. Like most of McCombs’ work, the songs sound personal and from the perspective of an outsider. Country and blues are the most common musical influences running through the record.
Among the many highlights: Morning Star, Joe Murder and Angel Blood. There are far more hits than clunkers on Big Wheel despite its girth.
That’s not to say this is a perfect album. Everything Has to Be Justified is way too long. The jazzy instrumental It Means a Lot to Know You Care doesn’t work for me and seems out of place. When you record 19 songs for a single album, it’s hard for all of them to succeed. And then there are the snippets from Sean, a 1969 short film that features an interview with a 4-year-old boy in San Francisco whose parents are hippies. There are three roughly one-minute sound bites from the movie.
The late actress Karen Black made an appearance on the album, singing Brighter! It’s another highlight of Big Wheel. The song also appears earlier on the album performed by McCombs, but Black truly puts the exclamation point on the song. Black, who died in August of cancer, also appeared on McCombs’ 2009 release Catacombs, singing on Dreams Come True Girl.
Big Wheel closes with Unearthed, a softly delivered country-blues number. Musically, it’s a quiet song and not a particularly strong finish, but, thematically, Unearthed complements the tongue in cheek manliness of the opener, Big Wheel. “I moved seventy-five thousand tons of earth with my teeth.” McCombs, who is notoriously media shy, doesn’t lay out an easy map to read with Big Wheel but that’s part of his mystique.
Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison today in the government’s case against him for leaking documents and video to WikiLeaks.
Check out this stunning video for Cass McCombs’ song Bradley Manning. Manning is the Army intelligence analyst accused of giving the “Collateral Murder” video and documents about the Iraq war to WikiLeaks.
One of the more interesting singer/songwriters out there, he plays Lincoln Hall Sunday in what should be a very good show.
McCombs previewed the song Mystery Mail (from Humor Risk) at Pitchfork fest in 2010.
Check out this video for the 2009 song Dreams Come True Girl, featuring … Karen Black!
There was so much good music released in 2011 that I find it’s actually hard to confine a list to the top 40. These are some of the albums that struck me as interesting, exciting or irresistible.
I’ll count down from 40 to 1 in two posts.
40. Bass Drum of Death – GB City: This is such a fun debut from two guys from Mississippi. It rocks hard.
39. The Obits – Moody, Standard and Poor: Indie vet Rick Froberg plays stripped down, loud rock ‘n’ roll.
38. Male Bonding – Endless Now: Great second album from these London punks.
37. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Lenses Alien: Band pays respectable homage to Pavement.
36. The Babies – The Babies: What do you get when you cross Woods with the Vivian Girls? A pretty boss album.
It’s been a good week for new releases, highlighted by Atlas Sound’s Parallax and Cass McCombs’ Humor Risk. McCombs’ album is his second of the year and a more uptempo follow to the somber Wit’s End. For Bradford Cox, it’s his first official Atlas Sound album since the awesome Logos in 2009. A year ago, you may recall, he released a ton of free music, the Bedroom Databank songs.
Also out this week: Kurt Vile’s EP, So Outta Reach. The release features five songs from the recording sessions for the excellent Smoke Ring for My Halo and a Bruce Springsteen cover. (In addition to making one of the best albums of the year, Vile was one of my noted highlights from Pitchfork fest.) As I posted earlier this week, Summer Camp released its debut, a fun, synth pop album that pays homage to the ’80s.