THE SKIF­FLE PLAY­ERS

Exclaim! - - WOOD, WIRES & WHISKEY -

Sk­if­flin’ Cal­i­for­nia song­writer Cass McCombs seems to like, and ex­cel at, play­ing in bands where the col­lab­o­ra­tive groove and zeal are ev­ery bit as im­por­tant as his sin­gu­lar gift for song. That com­mu­nal en­ergy is be­ing pumped into the Skif­fle Play­ers, McCombs’ new psy­che­delic alt-coun­try group with Neal Casal, Dan Horne and “Farmer” Dave Scher and Aaron Sperske (both of Beach­wood Sparks), which came about spon­ta­neously when McCombs was booked to play a fes­ti­val and needed a band. The group call what they’re do­ing Sk­if­flin’ and in­deed, their mu­sic pays trib­ute to the Amer­i­can Song­book, both light-heart­edly and, when ap­pro­pri­ate, with emo­tional depth — their haunt­ing and beau­ti­ful per­for­mance of mur­der bal­lad “Omie Wise” is par­tic­u­larly time­less (and timely). A fas­ci­nat­ing fu­sion hap­pens when the band cast their un-pu­ri­tan­i­cal, ’70s-lov­ing con­tem­po­rary stamp on tra­di­tional ma­te­rial, elon­gat­ing “Coo Coo Bird” and re­plac­ing its banjo lines with tum­bling elec­tric gui­tar parts, and im­bu­ing Henry Thomas’s “Rail­roadin’ Some” with the ur­gency of rock’n’roll. Mean­while, some of the new McCombs orig­i­nals are in turn an homage to skif­fle-re­lated tra­di­tions, like loose and live­feel­ing bar­room dance song “Michael Weikel,” which cel­e­brates New Or­leans and Mardi Gras. In part, this is a typ­i­cal Cass McCombs record — “A Star for You,” (in which a cheesy synth sound acts as sonic shoot­ing star), “Til Stone Day Comes,” the at­mo­spheric, slow-burn­ing love bal­lad “Al­ways” and the Byrds-y “When the Ti­tle Was Wrote” are all un­mis­tak­ably McCombs — but with the help of his band, he’s recorded some of the most pris­tine, beau­ti­ful, ex­cit­ing and fluid play­ing and singing I’ve heard

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