Skiffle Players is a ragtag outfit featuring Cass McCombs alongside members of Circles Around the Sun and the faded alt-country group Beachwood Sparks. Their enjoyably low-stakes debut LP captures the liberal, halfway-stoned spirit that’s demanded of musicians past thirty living in California.
In September 2013, at the excellently named Mollusk Big Sur Jamboree, folk songwriter Cass McCombs played a one-off show with a ragtag outfit assembled from jam-rockers Circles Around the Sun and faded alt-country group Beachwood Sparks. Dubbed the McCombs Skiffle Players, the band playfully alloyed backwoods folk, lap-steel-infused country, and elaborate West Coast jams. The songs sprawled, the band clicked, and more shows followed, at some length. A 12-track set bootlegged last year clocked in at 100 minutes, and their debut LP, though half as long, captures the liberal, halfway-stoned spirit that’s demanded of musicians past thirty living in California.
Skifflin’, an enjoyably low-stakes release, feels less like McCombs’ next frontier in tackling the Great American Folk Album than a leisurely sojourn. (Given the group’s colorful press statement–”Peace to the spirits of the musicians who came before us and taught us the secret esoteric ways of skiffle!”–you sense an easy pace suits the rest of the band just fine.) McCombs has never been a predictable songwriter, but Skifflin’ frees him to explore pockets of early American innovation beyond the scope of his pared-back solo work. There’s a shamanistic dirge (“Skiffle Paperclip When Science Evolves”), a quirky jam interrupted by studio in-jokes (“Skiffle Strut”), two faithful trad-folk covers (“Omie Wise” and “Coo Coo Bird”), and a wild freight-train skiffle called “Railroadin’ Some,” narrated by an unhinged conductor who hollers myriad place names yet can’t seem to settle on a destination.
Perhaps thanks to his peripatetic disposition, McCombs has a knack for silently invoking a character’s withheld details; he can be laconic, teasing, and morbid, sometimes simultaneously. Dreamy ballad “Always,” the first immediately McCombsian song here, complicates honey-sweet lyrics with an undertone of ambiguous resignation. “All the way to your room/ Rising like a lost balloon … All the way until the end/ You are my lover and my friend,” he murmurs, before closing on a couplet that inexplicably haunts: “No one could ever say/ We didn’t take it all the way.” “When the Title Was Wrote” is a perkier take on the McCombs staple, but it’s just as crafty. “Buddha is crucified/ Another misquote,” he sings, a loaded riddle that is conspicuous on a record concerned with the interpretation and ownership of American tradition.
McCombs describes songwriting as a process of “uncovering” ancient song forms: Folk melodies and themes, he says, are couched in our cultural fabric, waiting to be found. You see something of that worldview in the detached way he observes his characters, as if wary of imposing his truth on theirs—a wilful outsider, even in worlds of his own creation. It makes sense, then, that on Skifflin’’s pair of folk standards—”Coo Coo Bird” (aka “The Cuckoo”) and the murder ballad “Omie Wise”—he is in his element, inhabiting stories that have gone full circle, unearthed long ago from the cultural imagination and since returned to the realm of mythology. Skifflin’ is full of seemingly aimless excursions, but McCombs, far from needing direction, is just finding something larger than himself to get lost in.
Cass McCombs – Guitar, vocals.
Farmer Dave Scher – Keyboards, lap steel guitar, melodica, vocals
Neal Casal – Guitar, vocals
Dan Horne – Bass
Aaron Sperske – Drums and percussion
Weeds of Indifference
September 8 – October 8, 2017
SEPTEMBER 9–OCTOBER 15, 2017
OPENING: SATURDAY, SEP 9, 6–8 PM
SITUATIONS is pleased to announce Brooklyn-based artist Becca Albee’s solo exhibition prismataria, opening September 9 and on view through October 15. Featuring color photographs displayed in a specially designed installation with kinetic light projections and diffused scent, it is the third in a suite of exhibitions exploring the intersection of color theory with feminist practice.
In several of the photographs, Albee has placed color photographic gels, seasonal-color-analysis swatches or color-matching cards, on the pages of textbooks from “Women’s Health & Healing,” a course she took as an undergraduate at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. As she was quoted in Artforum earlier this year, “Its emphasis on grassroots activism and practical self knowledge had a profound impact on me, as I was studying feminist history and was very involved in the riot-grrrl milieu of Olympia.” Each photograph contains a carefully created system to connect and/or highlight the content, color and design – suggesting a revisiting and possibly revising of these urgent materials. One image pictures the dedication page from the book,A New View of a Woman’s Body, a second wave feminist health book, with the dedicatees listed by first name only, a list that reads like a poem.
Other photographs were taken inside the Prismatarium, a large circular room (originally a “ladies’ lounge”) in the Aquatic Park Bathhouse, a building constructed in San Francisco by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. The Prismatarium was designed by Hilaire Hiler, an artist, psychologist, musician, and color theorist. Hiler’s mural in the room begins with a custom color wheel of thirty hues at the center of the ceiling, and it radiates outward, extending down the walls in bands of neutral gray. Some of Albee’s photographs focus on sections of the color wheel mural and she has painted the gallery walls in similar gray bands, extending them even across her photographs’ frames.
Installed on the ceiling of the exhibition space Albee has created a light source – a revolving cylinder with color gels that slowly rotate around the gallery. Based on an unrealized light fixture element of Hiler’s Prismatarium, the fixture bathes the photographs in cyan, magenta, and yellow light. The effect activates her pictures of Hiler’s color wheel and the color elements in her feminist-textbook photos. Instead of using the gels in the traditional way — over the camera lens or flash — Albee has moved them into the space occupied by the viewer. And by refusing to present these textbooks as artifacts, she demonstrates their enduring practical and political value at a moment when feminist clinics are diminishing and healthcare and bodies are under attack.
BECCA ALBEE was born in Portland, ME and lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. She has been awarded fellowships and residencies including MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Blue Mountain Center, The Irish Museum of Modern Art, and The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Past shows include solo exhibitions at Et al., San Francisco, CA; 356 S. Mission Rd., Los Angeles; Lump Gallery & Projects, Raleigh, NC; and group exhibitions at Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Art in General, Brooklyn, NY; CUE Foundation, New York; CAM, Raleigh, NC; Contemporary Calgary, Alberta. For this exhibition Albee was awarded a PSC-CUNY Research Award and a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant.
SITUATIONS is located at 127 Henry Street, New York, NY 10002 (between Rutgers and Pike Street). Hours of operation are Thursday – Sunday 12-6pm a