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'Tip of the Sphere' review: Cass McCombs' boundary-stretching album

Cass McCombs' "Tip of the Sphere" on Anti-

Cass McCombs' "Tip of the Sphere" on Anti- Records Photo Credit: Anti- Records

CASS McCOMBS

"Tip of the Sphere"

BOTTOM LINE Stretching the boundaries of jam rock and Americana

Nothing about Cass McCombs is ever straightforward, though he is often quite a striking storyteller.

He makes the most of that skill on his new album, “Tip of the Sphere” (Anti-), leading us around life in the nation’s wide-open spaces. Though his Americana tales don’t always have a specific point, they do generally convey a feeling.

Take the 10-minute closer, “Rounder,” which is drenched in Grateful Dead guitar as it wanders from one musical circle to another as McCombs wonders about a series of questions, including “Are you tired of drying?” and “How are you keeling?” The seven-minute “I Followed the River South to What” feels more directed, though it seems more about the journey, not the destination.

When McCombs focuses his efforts, like in the lovely guitar ballad “Estrella” or the bluesy, piano-driven regret “Absentee,” he fares better. But he shines brightest when he builds his own model, like the oddly upbeat-sounding “Sleeping Volcanoes,” where he begs, “Help us, Armageddon,” or the beat poetry of “American Canyon Sutra,” which rides a stark trap beat. It’s all a weird trip, though one worth taking.

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