This is a collection of McCombs’ personalities who have reached their final destination. He creates vivid scenarios of characters reflecting on their struggle: bitter relationships and accumulated failures. However, there is no forcefulness in these soliloquies. Instead McCombs basks in the songs’ idiosyncrasies with his soft almost childish voice. It is this unhurried posture that reflects McCombs’ own life as the modern American nomad who has wandered across the states and quietly amassed a set of acclaimed albums to earn the position of veteran musician.
However, the surprising success of McCombs’ lead song, “County Line” has given his unimposing talent a more focused public attention and placed him near the top of many festival line-ups. Indeed “County Line”, first attracted me to his music and constantly floated through my home for most of Christmas. It begins like a lost late-night saloon classic, recounting the scraps of a decaying love. Then the chorus arrives with McCombs’ bleeding falsetto of “You never tried to love me,” and for the remaining four-minutes the listener is inextricably linked to the song’s pain. But like many of McCombs’ songs, there is no climax but instead a rich trail of instrumentation that embeds itself in your memory. Indeed it is the diverse backing instruments that help keep McCombs’ verses flowing. For I found it hard to penetrate the album after “County Line” as many of the songs have a somnambulistic quality and may verge on boredom, which is why one needs a fair bit of patience when listening to McCombs’ music. However, his second best song on the album is “Memory Stain”, which introduces a more blusie and substantial second half to the album, with surprising chord changes, abrupt drumming and a lingering oboe that winds its way through the songs. The highlight of these last ballads is epic 9 minute closer “A Knock Upon the Door” which encapsulates a European scene of urban claustrophobia and terror, and sounds like a dark welding of Pinocchio and Kafka’sMetamorphosis.
Thus Wit’s End becomes McCombs’ gallery of personal exhibits, each layered with grey loneliness and yet contagiously engaging. All of them relate to McCombs’ singularity who sees no need to shout to be heard and is unhindered by 21st century anxiety: indeed he apparently only communicates through letters. Therefore, you need to follow his pace in order to appreciate his particular sound. Or you could write him off as a lost eccentric, yet it seems that he will still be making his own version of music regardless of his audience.