At a time when it seems like it has never been harder for all but the most successful artists to make a comfy living out of music, itinerant US singer/songwriter Cass McCombs has released seven albums, including his current 85-minute opus Big Wheel And Others, in the past decade and managed to keep a different roof over his head every night by relying on the charity of friends.
Cass McCombs - CCA, Glasgow
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McCombs writes as he lives – simply but effectively – and tours with a fluid line-up of backing musicians, mustering three mellow souls on this occasion. McCombs was a low-key presence himself, a man with quiet confidence in his elegant distillation of American troubadour tradition.
One could point to Lou Reed, Neil Young, even Tom Verlaine as reference points, but his soft drawl on the tender rootsy rock’n’roll likes of There Can Be Only One was most reminiscent of our own Lloyd Cole.
Not everything in the set resonated with such low-slung charm. There was a thin line between a handful of easygoing burnished rock’n’roll ragas and the occasional self-involved, meandering and overlong jam before McCombs cut through the languor with the choppy strut of Lionkiller Got Married.
His support act, Frank Fairfield, is an LA-based family man with an enviable collection of pre-war 78s and a background in busking that very material. All but the musical antiquarian would be hard pushed to spot the difference between the traditional and original songs in his set, but he succeeded in drawing the audience into this hermetic world of Arizona fiddle tunes and prairie blues delivered with the spindly quaver of a Lomax folk field recording with lyrics about money problems and domestic travails which are ever-topical.