Cass McCombs, Arbouretum | Empty Bottle | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader
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Cass McCombs

Cass McCombs

Cass McCombs, Arbouretum 

When: Fri., Dec. 6, 10 p.m. 2013
Price: $12
Nomadic singer-songwriter Cass McCombs has built a decade-long career by mining that short period in the 1970s when erstwhile folk-rockers discovered an arguably perfect balance of blues, country, pop, and bong hits—which says a lot about how fertile the formula is. His seventh and most recent album, Big Wheel and Others (Domino), is dark and moody, with some of the same slow burn as one of Dylan’s nervous-breakdown records; its studied restraint occasionally buckles just enough to let a little crazy through. Throughout its sprawling 22 tracks it alternates between delicate pastoral pop and bluesy dirges, and McCombs animates it with a plethora of biblical allusions and outre come-ons, as well as by calling out people who make “shitty songs, shitty art, shitty poems,” giving the album a weird cultish energy. Combine that with some instantly memorable melodies, and Big Wheel is easily one of the most compelling rock-qua-rock releases in some time. —Miles Raymer

Earlier this year Baltimore rock four-piece Arbouretum participated in Southern Records’ Latitudes series with A Gourd of Gold, which consists of four Gordon Lightfoot covers, including an epic reading of the Canadian songwriter’s hit rhapsody “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” That song is a surprisingly good fit for Arbouretum, because it weaves together their penchants for British folk-rock and tragic tropes: the probing guitar solos of front man Dave Heumann function like extended, tearful asides to his stoic narration of the tragic shipwreck. But the band is still strongest on its own material, and this year’s Coming Out of the Fog (Thrill Jockey) is its best yet: some tracks, including album opener “The Long Night,” absolutely seethe, but overall the record tempers the aggression of its predecessor, Song of the Pearl, with a more meditative, lyrical vibe. Arbouretum still clearly pledge allegiance to the likes of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, but they’ve carved out their own sound, less florid and more direct. —Peter Margasak Cass McCombs headlines; Arbouretum opens.

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