REVIEW: Andrew Combs – Live At The Glee Club, Birmingham

LifeInASong_UK

It’s been a good year to be a country fan here in the UK. The US artists seem keen to make the trip and develop a fan base on these shores. In the last few months we have been entertained by Sam Outlaw, Courtney Marie Andrews and Margo Price. Cale Tyson and Brent Cobb are due again soon.

Andrew Combs is another country singer who is becoming a regular in the UK. He first came to our attention when he was included in the line up for C2C 2016 but has since toured on two occasions. He released a new album, ‘Canyons Of My Mind’ in March of this year and we were keen to hear the new music performed live.

The Studio at the Glee Club in Birmingham is an intimate venue and the audience is seated feet away from the performers. Up close and personal without the premium prices. The gig was billed as the Andrew Combs Band which always acts as an incentive. There’s nothing like hearing a favourite artist as they should be heard. There really isn’t any substitute for the full band sound.

Supporting Andrew was Paul Cauthen. His album ‘My Gospel’ was released in October 2016 and immediately made waves on the independent Americana/Country scene. He was formally the front man with Texan band ‘Sons Of Fathers’ and was also recently named as one of the ‘new country artists to watch’ by Rolling Stone magazine.

His album cover depicts someone who has been described as a “cigarette smoking Amish Dude” and he certainly has a huge presence. I’m guessing that the vast majority of the crowd didn’t have a clue who he was, and this wasn’t helped by him not announcing himself at any stage during his 45 minute set. Someone asked him his name when he was leaving the stage! They may not have heard of him but I am guessing that quite a few would be checking him out having heard his unique delivery and hugely impressive baritone voice. If you crossed Brian Blessed with a country singer you may be close to ending up with Paul Cauthen. He barely needed a microphone such was the power of his vocal delivery.

It also never ceases to amaze how these guys can produce so much magic out of a six string acoustic guitar. His set list included most of the ‘My Gospel’ album and it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention his performance of the title track. The album version heavily features a backing choir but Paul’s live performance more than made up for the lack of supporting vocals. He almost gave new meaning to the ‘one man and a guitar’ terminology. It was a genuine ‘wow’ moment and resulted in a collective whoop of appreciation from the crowd who were quickly being won over.

He is supporting Andrew for the UK and European legs of the tour and then goes on the road in the US supporting Cody Jinks. If you are planning to catch Andrew’s shows, make sure that you turn up early. Paul Cauthen is massively worth seeing.

You may recall Andrew Combs at C2C. He wore his woolly cardigan and opened on the huge stage in front of a crowd that he admits will probably be the biggest he will ever appear before. He isn’t a stadium artist. He will never pander to the masses and has no desire to release country chart songs. He is an artist who is at home before a crowd of people who appreciate the nuances of his music and give it the respect it deserves. He will play at bigger venues than the Studio Room at the Glee Club but I doubt if he will play before an audience who respected his talent more.

The woolly jumper was replaced by a smart black suit and red shirt and he was supported by his long standing regular lead guitar player, bass guitarist and drummer. Together, they sounded awesome. He opened the set with arguably the best track from his new album. ‘Rose Coloured Blues’ has to be one of the stand out songs of the year for me. The lyrics tell of sleeping under stars and train journeys ‘heading west’. A cool and windy night in Birmingham probably wasn’t at the forefront of Andrew’s mind when he wrote it but its ‘Gentle On My Mind’ vibe performed live was a joy to experience.

It was one of 8 tracks from the new album included in the set list. ‘Dirty Rain’, ’Better Way’ and ‘Silk Flowers’ were all included early on with the exception being the evergreen favourite ‘All These Dreams’, the title track from Andrews earlier album.

He told us that he had recently married and that his wife was massively supportive of his career and was his inspiration. His song ‘Better Way’ was performed as a tribute and I think it’s fair to assume that we have identified ‘Christina’ who is heavily name checked in the song!

The band left the stage leaving Andrew with his acoustic guitar for three songs mid-set. A massive highlight from his C2C performance was ‘Month Of Bad Habits’ a song that captured the audience like no other during that brief appearance. The casual country fans wouldn’t have known too much about Andrew Combs in March 2016 but that song certainly caught their attention. It remains a high point in his career to date and isn’t diminished by the lack of backing. Andrew’s solo performance was just as awesome as ever.

He followed this with ‘Rainy Day Song’, another classic from his earlier album and then told us that he had received an ‘unusual request’ to perform ‘Strange Bird’, a song about “girls that he used to know”.

The band returned for the up-beat ‘Foolin’ that had the seated audience wishing that they were standing. It’s a little difficult listening to the familiar pounding drum beats and the ‘Orbison’ guitar licks without shaking a leg.

He delved back to his first album ‘Worried Man’ for ‘Too Stoned To Cry’ before performing a song that has to be my personal favourite from his ever-growing output. ‘Suwannee County’ is a stunner. It closed the ‘All These Dreams’ album and to hear it live with those exquisite guitar chords was a massive highlight and simply puts Andrew Combs in a different league.

He then found time to involve the audience in a sing-a-long for ‘Emily’, a song that was not featured on any of his albums. It’s probably the most untypical Andrew Combs song that he has ever recorded. He isn’t associated with catchy commercial tunes but it certainly works as a crowd-pleaser and would have worked even better with an audience who could have danced along as well as sang along.

He completed his set with ‘Bourgeois King’ from the new album. He said that it was about their “shithead of a president”. Be careful Andrew. You know how disrespecting the US President on a foreign stage can affect careers. Remember The Dixie Chicks! It’s not a huge favourite of mine but it gave the guys a chance to flex their musical muscles with the extended solos.

The audience wanted more and he returned with ‘Hazel’, featuring the band amassed around a solo microphone offering vocal back-ups. The only minor gripe is the omission of ‘Nothing To Lose’. I have seen Andrew Combs on three occasions and he has omitted it every time. It’s the song that most of us checked out prior to his C2C show as it was the only song that featured a video. It’s also an absolute classic track that I’m amazed he appears to ignore.

As I say, a minor gripe. A night listening to Andrew Combs is always one to savour. He deserves so much more recognition for his huge talent and it was a joy to hear him say that he would be back to visit again soon.

Graham Wharton

Set List:

Rose Coloured Blues

Dirty Rain

All These Dreams

Better Way

Silk Flowers

Lauralee

Month Of Bad Habits

Rainy Days

Strange Bird

Foolin’

Blood Hunters

Too Stoned To Cry

Suwannee County

Emily

Bourgeois King

———-

Hazel

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