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CASS McCOMBS

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Singer-songwriter Cass McCombs, who recently moved to Chicago, makes music so ethereal it seems to build in slow motion out of nowhere, like frost. On his third full-length, Dropping the Writ, due next month on Domino, he's in much the same mode as on his previous releases: his airy ballads channel the high romance of vintage Neil Young and other California folk rockers of the 60s and 70s, and his unusual voice, hollow and tapering like Elliott Smith's, drifts through the songs like a cold autumn wind through an abandoned motel. But Dropping the Writ benefits from a newfound directness: the production is relatively clean (he can get a bit zealous with the reverb), allowing for more sharpness and clarity of feeling on the elegiac songs, and he experiments with straightforward pop numbers like "That's That," which could pass for a Tommy James tune. a 12:30 PM, Hideout Block Party (complete schedule, page 34), South Stage, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $25, $20 in advance, $35 in advance for a two-day pass. A --J. Niimi

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