NPR logo

Wit's End

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/137369124/137366782" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Cass McCombs: A Song For Every Time

Cass McCombs: A Song For Every Time

Wit's End

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/137369124/137366782" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Cass McCombs' "County Line" would fit well on the radio in 1957, sandwiched between Ricky Nelson and Bobby Darin. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption
Courtesy of the artist

Cass McCombs' "County Line" would fit well on the radio in 1957, sandwiched between Ricky Nelson and Bobby Darin.

Courtesy of the artist

Thursday's Pick

Song: "County Line"

Artist: Cass McCombs

CD: Wit's End

Genre: Folk-Pop

Cass McCombs' "County Line" would fit well sandwiched between Ricky Nelson and Bobby Darin, emanating from the radio of a 1957 Chevrolet. It could just as easily double as the slow-dance soundtrack for swaying teens at a 1980s high-school prom. But the song sounds contemporary, too, an example of how McCombs integrates the old with the new to stand handsomely alongside today's most celebrated songwriters.

Though his songs recall simpler times, McCombs' oeuvre doesn't rely on nostalgia. His fifth studio album, Wit's End, finds McCombs tapping into themes both personal and universal, delivering them poignantly with purposeful instrumentation and image-rich language. He pulls off saccharine like no other, too, making "oohs," "ahs," and "whoas" sound tasteful, testing his falsetto or singing nonchalantly about wildflowers.

At first listen, "County Line" may feel a bit lukewarm as it meanders like a hitchhiker kicking rocks at the side of the road. The tune reveals itself as deeply sad, though, and — like most of the work on Wit's End — plays out against a compellingly dark backdrop. McCombs takes great care with pain and loss, and confronts the most feared subjects with great tenderness.