Artist: Cass McCombs
Album: Humor Risk
Whenever I hear the term singer/songwriter for some reason it gives me instant nausea. I suppose it’s from so many times walking into a bar or coffee shop to hang out with some friends or get some work done, only to see somebody with a guitar setting up in the corner with a stool and microphone. It’s like a kid finding out that it’s beans and broccoli for dinner. I try to always keep an open mind about artists that are labeled singer/songwriters, but there are just some vocations, like poets, that seem that they’re always starting behind the 8-ball when it comes to getting my attention. McCombs however does have the talent and songwriter acumen with his new release Humor Risk being already his 7th and second this year. John Peel apparently called him “brilliant” so we’re talking about a well respected musician who even this skeptic could agree that the track “County Line”, off of Wit’s End that was released earlier this year, is on par with what Peel describes.
To my delight Humor Risk starts off wonderfully with “Love Thine Enemy”, an intelligent song of discourse between two friends writing each other. It’s got a Midwestern easy rock kind of vibe that Tom Petty had so much success with, but unfortunately after that first track the album kind of wilts. The trap that I think singer/songwriters fall into is that even if they’re songwriting ability is strong, they’re either not funny or insightful enough to elevate the songs above the millions of other singer/
songwriter songs out there. Despite the title of the album, it seems to be completely devoid of humour (Canadian spelling y’all), and everything has an air of being serious, which unfortunately gets a bit tiring even at 8 tracks.
It’s unfortunate that McCombs wasn’t able to break through more with “County Line” but McCombs seems like a recording machine, so this won’t be the last we hear from him. Given the breadth of his work, I won’t be turned off of McCombs work, but save for a few songs, Humor Risk won’t get too many more future plays.
– Michael Unger