With a voice that is a cross between Don McLean and Ray LaMontagne, Andrew Combs effervescent sound is impossible to resist. His new album called, Canyons On My Mind (New West) is a charmer, to say the least. But behind all that charm is a lot of gold as we learn how serious this young songwriter from Texas reveals himself to be. The first track is an edgy rock song called “Heart of Wonder” with its Andy MacKay (Roxy Music) sax solo, but it’s a bit of a rouse. Andrew Combs is a country artist, after all, so I don't think he’s going to fool anyone with his fondness for Glam-rock. So, he mixes it up on this record with a fresh variety of 11 songs that are retro without the nostalgia. For instance “Rose Colored Blues” could have been recorded in the mid-sixties with its simple string arrangement and up-tempo, “countrypolitan” feel. It’s really nice to hear a new generation proudly wearing their Glen Campbell tee shirts in the studio. On each track Combs sounds focused and committed. There's nothing worse than hearing a singer who isn’t fully committed to his or her own songs.
Andrew Combs, at the age of 30, has a lot going for him. Born in Dallas and now a working resident of Nashville, he's got the goods for a long career in contemporary American music. His co-write with great Joe Henry, no less, on a lovely song called “Lauralee”, reveals a lot of vocal confidence. Besides any association with Henry is good sign that Combs won’t fall victim to the more commercial sounds of the dread LA-Nashville country pop currently filling the airwaves. In fact on the song “Blood Hunters”, he’s pushing the musical envelope recently occupied by Beck with the sound of big guitars mixed with bright harmonies. Combs thrives with variety as opposed to the tried and true, and he backs it up with a first-rate studio production. Skylar Wilson and Jordan Lehning are the producers. (Lehning is the son of Kyle Lehning the long-time producer and engineer who’s worked with Randy Travis, George Jones and Bobby Bare, among others.)
As far as the songs are concerned the mix of character studies with political relevance isn’t lost on the listener. One of the strongest anti-Trump songs this year is “Bourgeois King”. Combs takes the piss out of the man by describing his President as “mulching America”. It’s a song full of fearful angst and if I was in my 30s right now I’d have a lot to be worried about too. On this particular song Combs’s lyrics and the 3/4 time signatures could have easily come from the pen of Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan before 1965. But Combs isn’t going to be trapped by paranoia either so he graces Canyons On My Mind with some top-notch love songs such as the beautiful, “Silk Flowers” and “Hazel”, a sad-eyed lady of the lowlands for 2017.
This review was first published on criticsatlarge on June 13, 2017.