Song You Need to Know: Cass McCombs, 'The Wine of Lebanon'

Cass McCombs gets listeners drunk on ceremonial wine with his new standalone track, “The Wine of Lebanon.” The song is a drunken pagan rumination on endings and beginnings, birth and death — using only his hushed voice and a modest collection of instruments, McCombs conjures an otherworldly in-between realm teetering on the edge of salvation.

The song trips in on a wobbling piano line, but the discord is dismissed when McCombs opens his mouth. His voice is singularly lovely, as usual, as he wonders: “What’s left when fortune fair returns a thief?” he sings. “Providence is too brief/What’s left of grief?” The chorus is a simple incantation of the title, answering his previous questions.

“What’s left when harvest tugs upon her yoke?” he continues, the personification of the season adding a dash of paganism into the mix. “Cruel gardens around her choke/What’s left to hope?”

Another chorus and a plush instrumental follows, boasting that same drunken piano line — overlaid with synths, drums, and guitar. Despite the only strings being six, it sounds like an orchestra.

The tail end of the song breaks down into the chorus again — a wine-sodden bacchanal on the edge of chaos — then follows a tornado of instruments that veers toward total breakdown before pulling back and ending on a sweet note. Balance is restored. Life beats death out in the end.

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