The Nashville-based troubadour Andrew Combs has been peddling his defiantly unique blend of country, folk and Americana for some time now, busily releasing elegantly crafted records that possess both an enduring mystery and a poetic backbone. 2015’s ‘All These Dreams’ felt like a breakthrough for an artist looking to transcend the sum of his classicist touchstones (namely Mickey Newbury, Guy Clark, Glen Campbell, Townes Van Zandt, Kris Kristofferson and the 1970’s Laurel Canyon scene). His new record, ‘Canyons Of My Mind’, is another irresistable, acoustically powered document that’s a testament to his burgeoning evolution as a songwriter.
The opening track, ‘Heart of Wonder’, is relatively extrovert in mood for Combs, a melee of clunking piano, cascading strings and squalling guitar delivered with microscopic deftness. The jazzy lilt of ‘Sleepwalker’ is more subdued, an unfussy, Ron Sexsmith-inflected melody displaying a contemplative grace and wavering between resolution and regret.
The third song, ‘Dirty Rain’, takes the album to a higher level; its ecological message (“What will all our little children say/When the only place to play/Is in the dirty rain”) pivots around gently strummed guitars and a string arrangement that’s disarmingly beautiful. The soaring, finger-picking ‘Rose Coloured Blues’ is a classic ‘heading for the outdoors’ anthem in the same vein as Jimmy Webb’s finest work or evergreens like ‘Gentle On My Mind’; images unfurl like half-remembered dreams.
The easy manner and pastoral glaze of ‘Hazel’ is matched by ‘Better Way’, a comely slab of mid-tempo, AM radio rock/pop splashed with the soundscape of swooping strings that shows the singer’s hand in experimenting beyond the trappings and tropes of country and folk forms. The lavishly orchestrated ‘Bourgeois King’ continues in this exploratory vein, a gospel-tinged freak-out that could snuggle on to a Nick Cave and Warren Ellis soundtrack.
The delicately simmering ‘Silk Flowers’ and the mournful country ballad of existential introspection, ‘What It Means To You’, represent archetypal Andrew Combs and comfortably nest amongst the finest in his canon. The former is a handsome, marshmallow-soft ditty that pampers the tenderest ear, whilst the latter is a dust-flecked, wistful collaboration with Caitlin Rose that could be a vintage George-Tammy or Gram-Emmylou duet.
With the exception of the stodgy, meandering and wearisome ‘The ‘Blood Hunters’, ‘Canyons Of My Mind’ is a recording that highlights its author’s penchant for strikingly beautiful melody and natural world lyricism. There’s a gathering force to his plaintive tone and sense of quiet intimacy.
‘Canyons Of My Mind’ is out now on New West.