Like Paul Simon, Andrew Combs wanted to merge ‘cool musical ideas with interesting lyrics’. On Canyons of my Mind, recorded as a married man, his goal is to be one of those artists who are ‘able to keep the lights on without compromising their art’. Aaron Watson, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson would agree, as would his accountant!
Andrew introduced himself to us all with tracks like Foolin, a toe-tapper from his album All These Dreams. He performed at Country2Country 2016, on the same day as Eric Church, Kacey Musgraves and Chris Stapleton. Greatly inspired by Nilsson and James Taylor, there is an understated feeling to Andrew’s music, which has been championed by Bob Harris.
He comes to London’s Borderline in May, with six other dates across the UK. Old fans will love hearing the new songs live, which fit comfortably within the Combs canon. The new songs are about ‘my acceptance of who I am as a man and who I am becoming’, he tells a piece published on his website.
The opener ‘Heart of Wonder’ is perfect. The searing guitar and swelling strings mesh with a hammering piano. It’s an amazing way to start an album or, for that matter, a live show. Similarly brilliant, and treading the same musical terrain, is ‘Bourgeois King’.
‘Dirty Rain’ is a lament for a bygone era. The promo video puts stark pictures next to the song’s lyric: “What will our little children say when the only place to play is in the dirty rain”. It’s a protest song with a small p, written to draw attention to the commercialisation and general gentrification of his adopted home of Nashville (he was born in Dallas). The song is in a plangent minor key, which adds variation to an album of mostly major-key toe-tappers.
‘Rose Colored Blues’ is one such tune, a rambling song about being outdoors, ‘heading west’ and sleeping ‘underneath the stars or in some borrowed bed’. It has that classic ‘Gentle on My Mind’ feel, which I am sure is intentional, in that the lyrics keep coming and the wire brushes on the drums mingle with the strings and vocal flutterings. It’s beautiful, sumptuous music.
‘Sleepwalker’, with a Ron Sexsmith feel and some sweet chords, is another poppy tune. “No need to wake the doctor…I am the sleepwalker, sleepwalking after no-one else”. I think it’s a love song.
‘Silk Flowers’ (“forgotten on a lonely windowpane”) is co-written with Skylar Wilson, who co-produced the record with Jordan Lehning. Jordan also co-wrote ‘Sleepwalker’ and arranged all the strings on the record, which makes him a sort of Chet Atkins figure to Andrew’s Waylon Jennings. ‘Blood Hunters’, with double-tracked vocals and a great guitar line, could be a Kurt Cobain song.
Three songs hymn different girls: Hazel sees Andrew’s voice rise to falsetto in a song that contains a magical passage of acoustic guitar; ‘Lauralee’, written with the great roots producer Joe Henry, is full of melancholy, violins and chords used by Harry Nilsson and Elton John; ‘Better Way’ is about a girl called Christina, and is swathed in guitar like a T-Bone Burnett production. Fans of Tobias Jesso Jr will appreciate the song craft from our Andrew.
‘What It Means to You’ closes the album. It’s co-written and sung with Caitlin Rose (daughter of Liz who wrote White Horse with Taylor Swift). It sounds like a modern standard with a mellow accordion dancing with the guitars.
“It was good the first time…sweet while it lasted, so I go and try it again” goes the lyric, a sentiment which many thousands of listeners will share on hearing this album. ‘Canyons Of My Mind’ deserves repeated listens and will take its place as a modern classic alongside 2010s albums by Jason, Sturgill, Kacey, Margo and Stapleton.
Canyons? More like Mount Rushmore.