Cass McCombs is always right

Published in LEO Weekly on Dec. 3, 2013.

“There are only two genres,” says Cass McCombs, “country and western.”

The singer-songwriter is completely sincere when he says this, but his catalog of seven albums speaks otherwise. Big Wheel & Others is his latest and longest to date. He’s been blowin’ in the wind for years, living a gypsy lifestyle within the perimeters of his native California. Along the way, he’s collaborated and hung out with weirdos like Animal Collective and Gang Gang Dance. His last joint effort captured on Big Wheel stars the vocals of ’70s actress Karen Black, who died last August. She sings on the song “Brighter!,” which McCombs had written for her. And despite battling cancer during that time, she killed it.

Two versions of that song grace both sides of Big Wheel. He says the songs change with each performance, and he is generally unattached to his studio takes. “The records are a pretty dull experience,” he says. (This writer kindly disagrees.)

Sure, some on Big Wheel are slow-burners — see “The Burning of the Temple, 2012,” a somber jazz slow dance with a haunting clip of Black asking, “Hey now, brother, where you headed so slow?” Others are surprisingly gritty, like the funked-out and bluesy “Satan Is My Toy,” or the psych-Western roller “Joe Murder,” where a disturbed sax solo materializes mid-song. McCombs experiments with genre here more than on any of his previous records, its 22-song length allowing plenty of room for directing his creative yawns to off-beaten paths.
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Appalatin spreads the love around

South American roots in a bluegrass state

by bill ivester
Photo by Bill Ivester

Published in LEO Weekly on May 29, 2013.

Mountains are the common link between the six members of Appalatin, who each took a different path to arrive in Louisville before the turn of the aughts.

Yani Vozos, Kentucky-born, picked up Spanish while living in Honduras on a Peace Corps trip. His lingual education wasn’t far off from Marlon Obando’s upbringing in Nicaragua. On this common ground, they wrote songs containing both Spanish and English lyrics.

Fernando Moya was already engrossed in performance with the traditional Andean group Andes Manta before extending his skills on wooden flutes and charango in Appalatin.

Steve Sizemore perhaps described it best when he said, “It just entered my soul,” about his experience living in South America from ’99-01. Now he bangs out on the bongos, conga and cajón drums, which are a heavy hip-shaking enticer of their African percussion selection.
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