Humor Risk CD
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Cass McCombs’ worldview can be nailed by his pithy response to being asked what he’d like on his tombstone: "Home at last." The comment, worthy of Tony Hancock or Spike Milligan (who, when asked the same question, chose "I told you I was ill!") has even more tragi-comic effect when you know McCombs is a bona-fide nomad, living in cars, on couches and at campsites across various US states. Pathos has always his calling card, with the emphasis on tragedy, despite the title Humor Risk. But it’s McComb’s second album inside nine months, so he’s productive if not teeming with bowl-of-cherries optimism. Wit’s End – his fifth-and-a-half album in 10 years – remains one of 2011’s finest, a series of gaunt songs that evoked the decline of another drifting day, yet came injected with a new-found sense of calm and warmth. Maybe that was just a production trick but McCombs did sound like he was home at last.
Perhaps that’s why he has made another (mostly) sublime record. Recorded in California, New York, New Jersey and Chicago, Humor Risk is (according to Domino) "an attempt at laughter instead of confusion". But as Ricky Gervais’ character in Extras might say: you ‘avin a laff? There’s nothing as devastating here as Wit’s End’s County Line, which conjoined The Velvet Underground’s Femme Fatale with Hank Williams, or how Memory’s Stain’s heavenly bass clarinet coda suggested a happy release in feeling there was nothing left in the body tank, but don’t expect chuckles. Try "Not you again / I thought you died" in To Every Man His Chimera, over a beat that can only be described as funereal with only a softly rippling guitar for company. Later on, a cat "leaves a rat’s carcass on my front stoop". Perhaps the cat heard McCombs chuckle and thought he’d teach him a lesson.
Yet the effect is as gorgeous as it is disturbing. The opening Love Thine Enemy reprises that Velvets-y two-chord throb while paraphrasing Tim Rose’s fatalistic folk-blues Morning Dew, and The Living Word taps McCombs’ Big Star Sister Lovers/Third album gene, the quintessential 4am-and-lost vibe, deadpan but not masking the pain. There is the odd letdown: Robin Egg Blue’s tune is as threadbare as the arrangement; similarly, Mystery Mail only justifies its eight-minute locked groove as a vehicle for its lengthy short-story structure (Humor Risk is an extremely wordy album). The closing Mariah (Sketch) is a blessed relief at four minutes, its melody more uncanny and disarming and its needling guitar resembling the flickering embers of a dying fire.
If you don’t know McCombs, and you reckon there must be someone out there as great as Bill Callahan (and better than Will Oldham) in the Americana Gothic racks, then Cass is your man. No laffs herein, but no risk either. --Martin Aston
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Top Customer Reviews
all good meat; no waste, no fat, no gristle (just like one of Mrs Wolf's
rabbit pies!) That he is a very fine songwriter has already been well
demonstrated on his previous five albums (Karen Black's keening turn on
'Dreams-Come-True-Girl' from his 2009 recording 'Catacombs' will forever
bring a smile to my face!) and this collection of eight songs proves
to be no exception to the rule. It is, perhaps, his best work to date.
Listening to a number as simply beautiful as 'The Living Word', with its
delicately hushed vocal performance and truly enchanting melody, its hard
not to think that he is among the finest performers currently making music
on the other side of the big, grey Atlantic pond. It is a gem of a song.
The delightful 'Robin Egg Blue', too, achieves much through its simple but
solid rhythmic structure and charmingly pictorial lyrics. There is a hugely
satisfying degree of light and shade in the collection. 'Love Thine Enemy'
is a terrific opener; the rock-solid beat and grinding guitar supporting a
fine vocal from Mr McComb and the disconcerting sonic intrusions adding
yet another layer of interest. At nearly eight minutes and in other hands
'Mystery Mail' might have overstayed its welcome but here, with its Velvet-ish
four-square central chord sequence I was more than happy to stay in its
company until the end. The well-structured near-emptiness of 'To Every Man
His Chimera', too, takes its time to make a powerfully emotional statement.
'The Same Thing' is a no-frills highlight; high on reverb, rich in moody
harmony, it is one of Mr McCombs' finest compositions to date and final
track 'Mariah', with its curious plinkety-plonkety, accompaniment is a joy!
Hit the re-play button, lay back and enjoy!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Wit's End was incredible--it created this consistent mood where you felt like you were in a little universe of sad, soft paranoia. It hit on a lot of trademark Cass McCombs styles but was also a real evolution.
So far I'm not sure if I feel that Humor Risk has that same level of amazingness, but it's nice and varied and hits all sorts of high and lows. "Love Thine Enemy" might be a bit of a light way to start the album, but it's grown on me after a few listens. "Chimera" has that oppressiveness of Wit's End while "Robin Egg Blue" goes back to that earlier McCombs style.
It's definitely worth picking up--especially if you get it today at $3.99. That's a no-brainer.