Monday, July 30, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1163: Andrew Combs

I’m fresh from a weekend full of fun activity, including a night spent with friends discovering music. The big discovery for me this time around was a German hard rock band called Wucan that was brought over by my friend Ross. I’ve given them a deep dive on Bandcamp for the last couple of days and it is fair to say there is room on shelf for their albums, should I ever find them.

But on to an artist I discovered all on my own.

Disc 1163 is… Canyons of my Mind
Artist: Andrew Combs

Year of Release: 2017

What’s up with the Cover? Someone should have told Andrew Combs this is a river, not a canyon. Maybe it is a canyon…in his mind. Get it? Get it?

How I Came To Know It: I read a review of this album on Paste Magazine and decided to check it out. I discover a lot of my music from just paying attention to what’s new and not being afraid to check it out.

How It Stacks Up:  I have two Andrew Combs albums. Of the two, “Canyons of my Mind” is second.

Ratings: 2 stars but almost 3

The last time I reviewed an Andrew Combs album (“All These Dreams” at Disc 1028) it started off rough but slowly won me over. For this reason I gave “Canyons of My Mind multiple listens over the last four days hoping for the same impact. Alas, it was not to be.

The same elements are there - a mix of country, folk and rock sensibilities – but the songs didn’t resonate as strongly as a whole. Combs’ vocals, which previously reminded me favourably of Jim Cuddy, now seemed to lack the same power to deliver the strong emotional messages of the songs. His Gordon Lightfood jangle was still there as well, but lost in the back of the mix.

This is a shame, because Combs is a gifted songwriter. The tracks are heartfelt, with a pretty even mix of tradition and innovation. Unfortunately, I drifted in and out of the mindful state you need to be in to appreciate them. They’d catch me briefly, and then they’d slip back again into the background, like an a.m. radio track playing low on the car stereo while you’re busy trying to find an address.

Part of this was all the lush production that wouldn’t let my ear settle into the tune. This was part of “All These Dreams” as well, but here it is even more pronounced. I need a little more quiet for the beauty to sneak in.

That isn’t to say there aren’t great tracks here. The haunting “Hazel” is the best song on either album, in fact. It is a song about a pale and awkward girl who is nevertheless admired from afar by the narrator. Combs’ vocals are great here as well, climbing into a pining falsetto as he sings the name of his obsession. Combs is also strong on “Lauralee”, a song with a seventies country croon mixed in with some more of that a.m. radio pop. Songs named after women seem to bring the best out in him.

Rose Coloured Blues” has that Gordon Lightfoot feel I liked on “All These Dreams” but the song didn’t work its way into my heart like his previous efforts. The song has a rambling beat, but it was more late seventies/early eighties fuzzy Lightfoot rather than early hippy folkster Lightfoot. I like both Lightfoots, but if you’re going to emulate one, the safe money is on the hippy version.

Combs also tackles political subjects, singing about environmental destruction on “Dirty Rain” and America’s current president on “Bourgeois King” but neither song is his best effort. They are important topics but it feels like Combs was pushing too hard to make his point. Subtlety can be as important in art as message.

While there are no songs on “Canyons of My Mind” that are terrible, separating them from one another was hard at times, and I got lost in non-musical thoughts many times. I could ascribe that to having a lot on my mind but I always have a lot on my mind. Great albums can always seize your attention.

Instead I think it is the thick production that is like trying to sail on a sea of cream; sweet, thick and hard to make any headway. At his best, Combs draws you in with this effect, but here I drifted away too many times to enjoy the journey.

Best tracks: Hazel, Lauralee, Silk Flowers

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