Cass McCombs is one of the finest singer-songwriters of our time; the Paul Simon of his generation. Those are bold claims, but with his 10th album of consistent quality, it’s a well earned title.
I love when veteran artists release great work years into their career, and that’s exactly what Cass has done here. Clocking in at nearly an hour, Tip of the Sphere is weighty, but never gets weighted down. His songs feel worn in and timeless on first listen, and I really believe that in an earlier time, McCombs would be held in the same regard as Simon, McCartney and Dylan.
Over the last few years, the whiff of patchouli has wafted over Cass’ music. He let his freak flag fly in The Skiffle Brothers, a loose knit folk-rock group with the Beachwood Sparks and Grateful Dead associate Neal Cassal. He has performed with the Dead’s own Phil Lesh, and Phish’s Mike Gordon slapped a little bass on 2013’s Big Wheel and Others. While Cass generally keeps his songs short and sweet, he’s recently opened up to the grooves, maaaan.
Tip of the Sphere works as an inverse PBJ sandwich, with exploratory jams opening and closing the album, and more compact fare in between. The nearly 8 minute opener, “I Followed the River South to What,” opens hypnotically before exploding in guitar and organ led fireworks. Closing track, “Rounder,” takes its main riff from Phish’s “Free.” I’d be curious to hear how this came about, as it’s a perfect copy.
Elsewhere, the album has an introspective feel, echoing the work of the aforementioned greats. The only curveball here is the hip-hop indebted track “American Canyon Sutra,” where Cass mumbles like Jim Morrison about our cynical modern times over trap beats. It’s an interesting experiment, but feels out of place.
Tip of the Sphere is another excellent release in the ridiculously prolific career of one of America’s most underrated songwriters.