Cass McCombs & Steve Gunn

It’s another great day to buy from Bandcamp, y’all. In honor of Juneteenth, the benevolent music marketplace is donating its share of sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. (And they’ve pledged to do the same each Juneteenth going forward.)

I’m filling up my shopping cart now, and I’m planning to update the list of recommendations at the bottom of this post throughout the day. For now, I thought I’d pass along a heads up about a great 7-inch Cass McCombs and Steve Gunn just released. They’d hoped to sell it on a west coast tour, but since that run was canceled, they’ve made it available on Bandcamp. It pairs a Gunn-sung take on the traditional tune “Wild Mountain Thyme” with a cover of Michael Hurley’s “Sweet Lucy” (a song I hold near and dear — my daughter’s humming along to it as I type this) sung by McCombs.

You can hear both of those tunes below. And here are a few other items I have my eye on:

Cass McCombs

Humor Risk

It’s kind of a freaky thought, but what we like isn’t always up to us. Does that mean there are dark forces at work, surreptitiously assaulting our brains with all manner of suggestions? Well, of course, but that’s not really what I wanted this post to be about. I think what I’m trying to talk about is mystery. Our brains work in ways we can’t understand, and that may be a good thing. What fun would it be if we could map out every notion and its neurochemical origin? That sense of mystery is all that separates us from being squishy, walking computers, so let’s embrace it! And let’s embrace Cass McCombs! The singer-songwriter is a self-consciously enigmatic figure with a well-documented disdain for interviews, a peccadillo that has forced some music journalists to actually sit down with a pen and paper and write to him by mail to get material for an article. He’s even posted a hilarious and self-deprecating faux interview to YouTube, in which he says absolutely nothing. Ironically enough, I started learning about McCombs’ steely and mysterious public persona from a phone interview he did do with Pitchfork, and my immediate reaction after reading the piece wasn’t great. I thought he came across as pretentious, even as he was describing how “a master craftsman is someone who is unpretentious.” At that point, my familiarity with his music was limited to a single listen of his new album, Humor Risk, and though I enjoyed it, his standoffish nature was enough to make me put the record down. End of story. Or is it? I can’t remember why I picked it back up a few days later, but when I made it to “Robin Egg Blue,” something had changed. Maybe the songs needed time to settle, or maybe knowing more about his personality opened a door that had been locked the first time I listened. Frankly I don’t know what switch was flipped that made me like this record so much more when I came back for a second listen, and in this case, I’m OK letting the mystery linger (though I can’t shake the sneaking suspicion that McCombs is actually a Jedi). I do know that Humor Risk is a special album, replete with a kind of brilliance that glows warmly and unobtrusively throughout all 8 songs. With this in mind, I’ve included a stream of the entire album below. If you enjoy it, you can buy Humor Risk on iTunes here.

Cass McCombs — Humor Risk