Digesting Cass McCombs’ seventh album Big Wheel and Others is no easy feat. At 19 tracks (22 including the short interludes from the 1970 documentary Sean), the compelling body of work is the longest and most comprehensive yet from the enigmatic rocker.
Shaped by his nomadic existence, McCombs’ cryptic songwriting draws influence from his journeys as a wanderer. His lyrics are often shadowy and perplexing, made more haunting by eerie guitar rifts and bluesy loops.
But that’s what makes him so absorbing. As evidenced by the largely overlooked 2011 album Wit’s End, McCombs consistently demonstrates a talent for storytelling, and delivers it with brooding emotion.
In true form, he continues that legacy with Big Wheel, only with more transparency and accessibility.
While McCombs retains his signature tongue-in-cheek folk, he breaks through the ambiguity and provides a more raw and candid record.
“There Can Only Be One,” the shining single off the album, reigns as solid representation of this direct approach. Retaining his trademark dark humor, McCombs curses the perils of a single true love as he sings, “Broken down for days at a free motel under the Oregon Ridge/There’s nothing new under the sun/There can only be one.”
Big Wheel’s strong opening tracks lead into a body of equally compelling work, including standouts “Honesty is No Excuse,” “Aeon of Aquarius Blues,” and the instrumental “It Means a Lot to Know You Care.”
Other standouts include “Joe Murder” and “Sooner Cheat Death Than Fool Love,” a facetious look at love lost. “Even the loftiest prison can be escaped,” McCombs laments. “I wish I never met you, of that I’m sure/I ain’t any better off than I was before.” This peek into the secretive musician’s troubles is a rare treat for fans, and positions him as somewhat approachable.
It’s no secret that Cass McCombs has long harbored a disdain for press and accessibility. The 35-year-old singer-songwriter, known for his dry and humorous approach to bluesy folk, is notorious for shunning media outlets and press interviews.
So it comes as somewhat of a surprise that his seventh album offers a revealing glimpse into the obscure artist’s world. McCombs displays a gossamer vulnerability on this album. His surprising strength to offer a mature and more developed sound on Big Wheel and Others is enough to impress even the most diehard fan, and gives listeners insight into a previously hidden realm.
Cass McCombs – Big Wheel and Others tracklist:
- “Sean I”
- “Big Wheel”
- “Angel Blood”
- “Morning Star”
- “The Burning of the Temple, 2012”
- “There Can Only Be One”
- “Name Written in Water”
- “Joe Murder”
- “Everything Has to be Just-So”
- “It Means a Lot to Know You Care”
- “Sooner Cheat Death Than Fool Love”
- “Satan Is My Toy…”
- “Sean II”
- “Home on the Range”
- “Brighter! (feat. Karen Black)”
- “Untitled Spain Song”
- “Sean III”
- “Honesty Is No Excuse”
- “Aeon of Aquarius Blues”