Unintentionally obscure.

When life is always spent on the road, the house is not a home. And some things are just better off left behind. No one knows this better than 31-year-old traveling troubadour Cass McCombs, who for the better part of this decade has traversed the country and world with little money but an abundance of richly poignant indie-folk songs.

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"I have never really had an apartment, and I've never had a credit card. I don't need all these things," says McCombs over the phone from Los Angeles, just one of the many places, including Baltimore, New York, and Chicago, where he has set his bags down over the years. "I would rather have nothing and be able to work every day on my songs, because that's the most important thing to me."

The words McCombs strings together like a poet roll off his soft-spoken tongue, woven through with literary and metaphorical references. "My Sister, My Spouse," off his latest release, Catacombs, was taken from the Song of Solomon, a short biblical story that explores the courtship of a man and woman and the consummation of marriage. "I guess I had been thinking a lot about the impossibility of authenticity and the masks that we generally all wear at different points in our life," McCombs says.

Since McCombs's first EP, Not the Way, dropped in 2003 on now-defunct Baltimore label Monitor, he has gone on to release four solid full-lengths—the first two, A and Prefection, on Monitor; the latter two, Dropping the Writ and Catacombs, on the highly visible indie label Domino. Yet he remains perhaps one of the most underrated artists in the current lexicon of American singer-songwriters. "I'm not really going for obscurity," he says. "I'm trying to break through, just trying to make ends meet."

Although McCombs has held down his nine-year-long career solely playing music ("I've never been much of a day jobber," he says), he has only gotten the scraps of the feast that more-well-known, less-talented songwriters are stuffing their bearded faces and bellies with. With Catacombs, though, that's all bound to change.

The five-and-a-half-minute-long album opener and lead single, "Dreams Come True," shuffles along at a gentle pace, with McCombs's acoustic and electric guitars dancing around the soft percussive rhythms of longtime collaborator Orpheo McCord and upright bassist Walker Teret. It's a perfectly crafted love song, McCombs's soft, tender voice floating around the Marianne Faithfull–esque guest vocals of 70-year-old veteran Hollywood actress Karen Black like an angel with a broken wing: "I've been blessed/Your eyes are two moons/I hope this voyage will not be ending very soon."

The politically apathetic anthem "Don't Vote" reflects McCombs's long-standing stance on the electoral process; he sings, "It must be hard sometimes not to complain/But that's the deal your Uncle once explained." "For a time, I was antidemocracy," he says. "I needed to write a song about the pains of democracy."

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As for the rest of the 11-track-long player, it's a delicate balance of hopeful, twangy pedal-steel ballads ("You Saved My Life" and "Harmonia"), the snail-paced optimism of a wonderful life despite financial setbacks ("Executioner's Song"), literary and metaphoric tales ("Lionkiller Got Married," the aforementioned "My Sister, My Spouse"), and good memories left behind ("One Way to Go").

"The songs draw from a variety of sources and influences and my memory," McCombs says. "My memory has a lot to do with it. Every­thing triggers some memory, wherever you are. You remember something else and that memory can deceive you, and it can corrupt you, and it can seduce you, and it's not always good. But the times in life where I felt the most joy, I have completely forgotten about. I've lived that joy, and I have no need to relive it again." recommended

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