December 11th marks the release of A Folk Set Apart: Rarities, B-Sides & Space Junk, Etc., an alternate retelling of the last decade in the life of extraordinary songwriter Cass McCombs.
Comprising songs from 2003-2014, the album showcases McCombs’ thematic and emotional diversity. A black mirror to his catalog, there are varying moments of reflection, madness, and dark humor. Also of politics – “Bradley Manning,” which debuted on Democracy Now, is a modern folk ballad of the convicted Army whistleblower, and directly quotes Manning’s own Facebook posts. McCombs has a unique ability to stitch together ancient techniques with our current primitive mind.
For all their differences, this collection of songs reveals the artist as navigator of avoidance. They have been unearthed from the so-called underground – culled from the various limited, rare sources from which they were initially released on different independent labels on both sides of the pond, now compiled by Domino. For the past decade, most of these have been next to impossible to find, and for the first time are now readily available. Many were first unveiled as split 7”s, only sold at shows, whose artist pairings are as diverse as McCombs’ own musical tendencies: e.g. Meat Puppets (“Evangeline”, “Night of the World”), Michael Hurley (“Three Men Sitting On A Hollow Log”) and White Magic (“If You Loved Me Before”).
McCombs is a perennial favorite of many acclaimed musicians – as evidenced by the broad range of guests who appear on the tracks: Mike Gordon (Phish) co-wrote and lent his unmistakable vocal to the bizarre experiment, “Texas”; PREfection-era drummer, Tim Dewit aka Dutch E. Germ (Gang Gang Dance) on “A.Y.D.”; drummer Joe Russo (Furthur) on “Evangeline” and “Night Of The World”; Chris Cohen (Deerhoof) plays guitar on “Poet’s Day” and “An Other”; Tim Cedar (from noise/punk band Ligament) drums on “Twins”; among many other anti-heroes from the musical underground, proving community defies classification.
Parallel universes obviously exist, but where are they before we experience them? The occult world stalks us until the final coup-de-gras. But McCombs is not a mystic but a brutal realist, exposing himself warts and all, in the punk tradition.
These songs will both satiate and perplex those already familiar with McCombs, while compelling and rewarding new listeners, pointing a way towards his back catalog. It’s a glimpse behind the studio curtain at one of the greatest songwriters of the 21st Century. True trash esoterica.