For the past couple of years Douglas McCombs has been performing around town with the latest version of his long-running project Brokeback. While the music's evocation of the expansiveness, twang, and parched tone of the American West remains, McCombs has been pushing more explicitly toward rock. When McCombs first started playing as Brokeback
in 1995 he was clearly inspired by the bass duo Mike Watt started with his ex-wife Kira Roessler called Dos, and before long Brokeback became a duo with the involvement of onetime jazz bassist Noel Kupersmith; eventually it become a trio with the addition of jazz drummer Tim Mulvenna. Over those years and recordings Brokeback's music became more and more intricate and melodic, so it makes sense that everyone in the new lineup brings a rock pedigree to the table: drummer Jim Elkington is well-known for playing guitar and singing in the Zincs and the Horse's Ha, as well as working with the likes of Jon Langford, Kelly Hogan, and Laetitia Sadier; bassist Pete Croke has been a member of Reds and Blue, Tight Phantomz, and Head of Skulls!; and second guitarist Chris Hansen is a veteran of Head of Skulls! and Pinebender.
The band's long-awaited return, Brokeback and the Black Rock (Thrill Jockey), which comes out on January 22, is certainly its loudest record (and first in nearly a decade), with heaps of meticulously shaped counterpoint and sumptuously reverberant, richly textured guitar tones. Yes, you can hear the ongoing influence of Ennio Morricone's spaghetti-western soundtracks, but to me the influence of Warm and Cool-era Tom Verlaine is a much bigger point of reference. But as you can hear on today's 12 O'Clock Track, "The Wire, the Rag, and the Payoff," the compositional style of McCombs is all his own, and this song is representative of the strength and beauty of the entire album. The band has a couple of low-key performances on the horizon, including an in-store at Saki on January 28.