Review: Cass McCombs - A Folk Set Apart: Rarities, B-Sides & Space Junk, Etc.

Cass McCombs: A Folk Set Apart: Rarities, B-Sides & Space Junk, Etc.

Cass McCombs' A Folk Set Apart comprises B-sides and rarities from across his musical career, and is a more raw and honest overview of his work and developments over the years. As an artist who is known for not being afraid to try out different things whenever he feels like it, the album is certainly diverse and intriguing. Still, none of the songs feel out of place, and oddly, the album works as a single, coherent piece of work. Moreover, the soundworld is still relevant and fresh even in 2015.

Ranging from punk rock to folk, the record showcases not only McCombs' talent but also his emotional depth. Indeed, just listening to A Folk Set Apart feels strangely intimate, perhaps more so than with WIT'S END and Catacombs, which would likely be regarded as better albums. This seems more personal, even if it is largely due to the fact that it covers music from most of his career.

The album is cleverly composed: 'A.Y.D.' and 'Oatmeal' kick off the album in a captivating, inviting way, allowing the album to then move to more melancholy, sentimental material, such as 'Twins' and later 'Empty Promises', changing the tempo from fast to slow completely effortlessly. The closing track, 'The State Will Take Care of Me', is the perfect ending that leaves you content with the entire 75-minute listening experience.

Many of the songs on the album seem ready and it is surprising to hear them collected together – A Folk Set Apart lacks the sense that you often get with B-side albums, an incompleteness that has left the songs as rarities, in need of polishing or simply just unfit for A-sides. A Folk Set Apart, on the other hand, could easily have covered two full-length albums that wouldn't have sounded any worse than the rest of McCombs' repertoire.

The record is, just like it's meant to, still a collection of some of his less clean-cut, more varied work. It is precisely this diversity that makes the album flow nicely, holding the listener's attention throughout the 19 tracks.

A Folk Set Apart is not revolutionary. If you know McCombs' work, there is nothing unexpected or new, as such, about this album. More importantly though, it is an exhibition, when his previous works have just been single, individual projects; the album ties them all together in a way that doesn't feel forced. Indeed, the record covers the changes in his musical preferences, as well as his political and artistic interests, in a very compact and straight-forward way, all laid out in front of you.