Album Review: Cass McCombs – Humor Risk

Cass McCombs is known as a bit of a nomad, traipsing across both country and myriad eras of music to create his contemplative, narrative records. Earlier this year, Wit’s End and its lethargic, deliberate style played like a dirge, an homage to the darkest places a man can know. While McCombs quips that “pain and love are the same thing” on the aptly titled “The Same Thing” – the standout track here on Humor Risk, his second LP of 2011 - it’s made quite apparent that Wit’s End and Humor Risk are most certainly not the same thing. Humor may not exactly be a love record, but its road-ready ballads and attitude toward life are a bit more encouraging than — and a perfect compliment to– Wit’s dark ruminations.

“Love Thine Enemy” kicks things off simply, indicative of the musical stylings of the whole record: a basic, repeated upbeat drum line grounding a fuzzy guitar and a mellow lyrical delivery. It’s a format that works, turning the listener’s complete attention towards McCombs’ stories. Yet it never becomes monotonous as scattered piano, indiscernible noise, and folksy acoustic strumming make appearances as the narratives of the songs momentarily digress or crescendo to a close. Ballad-length “Mystery Mail” epitomizes this – the first seven minutes are the same phrase repeated, only to switch to a different chord progression as McCombs yells in anguish, “To no avail, you tip the scale/Now I’ll see you in hell!”

Lyrically, McCombs’ unfaltering quality continues with its visceral imagery. He is not completely free of Wit’s emotional baggage, shown by lines on tracks like “To Every Man His Chimera”, such as “Peel off the latex, fair weather friend.” But he is making progress, evidenced by “The Living World” and glimmers of hope on closer “Mariah”– making this even more of a perfect road record, as McCombs is audibly on just as much of a journey as his listeners are.

Essential Tracks: “Love Thine Enemy”, “Mystery Mail”


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