REVIEW: Andrew Combs – Live at The Maze, Nottingham

P1020225It’s always a great pleasure to see someone whose music has played a large part in your daily life. The album of choice in a long car journey and the album that you always turn to, even when there are many other options. ‘All These Dreams’ by Andrew Combs is that album for me.

I first became aware of Andrew Combs last November when the C2C guys announced that he was due to appear on the main stage. Like most, I guess, his inclusion was a surprise. However, it didn’t take long to realise why this guy was on the list. A quick glance at YouTube, a first listen to ‘Nothing To Lose’ and I was hooked.

In the 4 months before the appearance on the O2 stage I was up to speed. He had the opening Sunday slot and the arena wasn’t full, but he blew me away with the quality of his voice. The Maze in Nottingham can quite fairly be classed as a “contrast” to the O2 arena. This was a venue for Andrew’s first ever UK headlining tour.

Whilst we relish the opportunity of seeing the US country stars appearing on our patch, we have to accept that our numbers are pitifully small in contrast to the support these guys receive back home. The harsh reality of all this is that these guys have to make money to make it all possible. The numbers have to work.

Combs comes to the UK with his mate and co-label resident Barna Howard, hires a car, drives himself around and performs for those of us who make the effort to go. All credit to their elbow I say, but the downside of all of this is that we don’t often get the opportunity of hearing the music as it was intended. It’s almost financially impossible for an artist to bring across his band so we hear the music acoustically. That might be exactly what you want to hear and there are many songs that lend themselves to this format.

A musician with a guitar is what country music was founded on but Andrew Combs accepted on a number of occasions in his set that “this one is a big band number” or ”this one’s a piano ballad and I don’t have a piano”.

The ‘Dreams’ album was greatly enhanced by the production values. His reincarnation of the Orbison sound was an absolute delight and that can’t be replicated by playing an acoustic guitar. However, I am getting ahead of myself. A healthy Monday night Nottingham turnout was present to greet Barna Howard who was supporting Combs on this UK tour.

He is a singer songwriter from Missouri who has released two albums and is preparing his third. He is pure Americana. He writes good songs and has a very decent voice. His huge strength however is the quality of his guitar playing. This wasn’t the Striking Matches solo gymnastics that we often hear. It was guitar playing solely to accompany his songs. He had the ability to make one guitar sound like two, which sounds basic but there really isn’t any other way of telling it. He also had a understated, laid back style and came across as a extremely likeable guy

He performed songs from his second album ‘Quite A Feelin’ and a bunch of new ones. The downside of a unknown artist is that all the songs are essentially new to the audience. Without the familiarity they lose the impact but his half hour set was very well received and there was a healthy interest at the merch stand when he came off the stage. The best that a support artist can do is to drum up interest. Barna certainly did that. He was a hard act to follow.

The show was slightly delayed because they had both been out for a “beef pie” and the service had been slow. Such is the rock and roll lifestyle! Andrew Combs came on stage and opened with ‘Month Of Bad Habits’ from his latest album. The venue might have been small but the acoustics were top draw. ‘Bad Habits’ is a song that works just fine acoustically and I’m guessing that this was perhaps why it was chosen to open the set.

The set list contained 19 songs. Most were taken from Combs’ two albums, but he also showcased a number of new tracks from an album that is in the process of being completed. They sounded great. One that particularly stood out was ‘Rose Coloured’. Classic Andrew Combs.

Let’s be honest, with a voice like that it’s not too difficult for anything he sings to stand out. He admitted that he penned a number of his songs for his fiancée’. He has a very easy, laid back style and whilst telling us the meaning of his songs wondered if anyone could actually understand his Texas accent.

There were a few notable omissions to the set list. We didn’t get to hear ‘Long Gone Lately’ which wasn’t too surprising as it’s probably the most obvious ‘Orbison’ sounding track on the album. However, we also didn’t get to hear ‘Nothing To Lose’ or ‘All These Dreams’ which was particularly disappointing but I guess the acoustic constraints played a part. On one of his new songs Andrew improvised by trying to simulate a string section with his voice and he resorted to whistling where pedal steel guitar would normally take over the song. Minor gripes and totally understandable.

It was a pleasure experiencing Andrew and Barna’s performances in a small intimate setting. We cannot wait to hear the new tracks as they are intended. We are hugely grateful that these guys make the effort to showcase their talents on a UK stage and we have to try to support them in greater numbers.

Set List:

Month Of Bad Habits

Rainy Day song

Laura Lee

Foolin’

Negative Blue

Suwannee County

Dirty Rain

Better Way

Devil’s Got My Woman

In The Name Of You

Pearl

Rose Coloured

Sleepwalker

Silk Flowers

Please Please Please

Strange Bird

Too Stoned To Cry

Blood Hunters

Hazel