Big Wheels – Keep on Searching
Cass McCombs is the modern-day traveling minstrel, moving from town to town in his quest to master the art of songwriting. Born in the San Francisco area and coming of age in New York, he’s spent a good part of his life since living with friends, in cars and camps in towns across America and England. Along the way, he’s released six full-length albums, including the critically acclaimed Catacombs in 2009. With his seventh studio album, Big Wheels and Others, McCombs has released a densely average double album that struggles for identity and direction.
Indeed, McCombs’s album as a whole seems like a well-produced set of demo tracks that needs refinement and an overall theme to bring them together to form a cohesive work. Each track feels separate, dumped into the album. And perhaps this anachronistic style is meant to throw the listener out of his comfort zone, but the overall effect is a visceral dislike of the album. From a toddler talking about smoking grass in “Sean I” to the monotonously sung (but otherwise musically interesting) “Angel Blood” and “The Burning of the Temple 2012,” there is a lot not to like in the first ten tracks. The second half of the album improves somewhat, with a good instrumental in “Sooner Cheat Death than Fool Love,” and a nice old school rock ballad, “Home on the Range.” “Aeon of Aquarius Blues” is a nice folk number and leads smoothly into the finality of “Unearthed,” a sad dirge that ends the album.
Possibilities abound throughout this album. There is no mistaking that McCombs is an accomplished musician, and his songwriting style is diverse. It may be that a gifted producer could have taken the groundwork and forged pure excellence out of the undeveloped music that McCombs wrought. But there is a lot to be desired in his vocals, interpretations, and delivery on Big Wheels and Others.