A dark horse moving uneasily through a crowded field of Dylan descendants, California-born singer-songwriter Cass McCombs has stealthily cast himself as one of our most uncompromising craftsmen, a genuine talent capable of frustrating and exceeding his listeners' heady expectations with his polarizing art.
His latest album is "Wit's End," a spare, darkly hued effort that opens with "County Line," as fine a forlorn ballad of lost love as you are likely to hear this (or any) year.
amNewYork spoke with McCombs about his music.
What do you hope people are going to take away from the new album?
If anything, I hope people give it their time. That's all I can really hope for - just a moment with it. However they interpret it, that's up to them. And I want that - I want them to have their own individual interpretation of it.
Have you ever been surprised by someone's interpretation?
I'm sure. Nothing really stands out in my memory. Once I'm done with it, the people own the song. It's not mine anymore - they own it. It's theirs. I'm on to the next song.
Do you recall when you first began songwriting?
No, I don't. I think it's natural, once you start learning any instrument, you're going to come up with your own way to play that instrument. I learned how to play piano when I was a kid, real small, and guitar came when I was about 13. I think by the time I was that age, I knew a little bit about classic rock and folk music and country music, and I think I wrote really bad versions of my idea of what that is - just to see, and to express myself. There isn't much else to do when you're a kid.
Has writing gotten harder or easier over the years?
The stakes are higher - so, in that sense, it is harder. That's only coming from my expectations. I expect a lot out of myself now, whereas I didn't know what to expect when I first started.
What do you hope to explore in your future work?
It's always changing every day - I have a new conversation with someone, and my whole life changes. I'm just like everyone else: I don't know anything. The songs are just my way of scrambling through life - trying to organize it, or disorganize it, or do something with it. It's my attempt at engaging with my existence.
If you go: Cass McCombs will be performing at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on Thursday at 9 p.m., 66 N. Sixth St., Brooklyn, 718-486-5400. $15.