Originally from Dallas, Texas, singer-songwriter Andrew Combs released his debut album Worried Man back in 2012. Since then he’s released a further two full-length records – most recently 2017’s Canyons Of My Mind – and an EP, and has frequently performed in the UK including an appearance at C2C: Country to Country. Now he’s back with his fourth record, Ideal Man, which is released today.
The album opens with first single Stars Of Longing, and right from the off you sense this is going to be very different from Combs’ previous work. It starts with drums crashing in before adding distorted, fuzzy guitars, giving the song a 60s psychedelic vibe reminiscent of the Beatles’ later work. Combs’ echoey, wavering vocals have a great soulful quality to them as he delivers the hopeful lyrics, and there’s an almost gospel feel to the song, particularly on the soaring chorus.
One thing which really stands out to me on this record is Combs’ willingness to experiment with his sound and approach. Hide And Seek, with its atmospheric, hazy quality, sees a touch of gravel creeping into Combs’ voice as he delivers the vulnerable lyrics. ‘A heart is not a hiding place’, he sings, over a ringing bell effect, which adds to the disconcerting feel. Later on, The Stone uses a funhouse-style melody, music box effects and horns alongside Combs’ ethereal vocals, enhancing the themes of deception and loneliness in the lyrics.
That said, there’s still plenty of space for the types of songs that could have easily appeared on Combs’ previous albums. The piano-led Like A Feather put me in mind of Joni Mitchell, with its dreamy quality and romantic, nostalgic vibe. Meanwhile, Save Somebody Else grabs you immediately with its driving beat and humanitarian message alongside guitar and piano melodies that could come straight from a classic Western, and Dry Eyes, with its rocky guitars and unsettling feel, sees Combs singing about an ex-lover who keeps him trapped with ‘witchy ways’.
Ideal Man also really showcases Combs’ skill as a a songwriter and lyricist, particularly around the theme of identity. The title track, with its sparse yet vivid imagery (‘I covet the coyote with blood in his eyes’ being a particular standout line) is a great example of this, balanced by layered instrumentation and Combs’ controlled vocals. Elsewhere, Shipwreck Man balances a wistful, folky melody with questions about losing yourself (‘how can you move forward if you don’t look back?’), and Born Without A Clue uses electronic effects in its intro alongside Eagles-esque guitars and big vocals from Combs, as well as lines exploring the ‘strange world getting stranger’.
For me the standout track on the album is Firestarter. The almost a capella intro puts the emphasis firmly on Combs’ bluesy, soulful vocals, bringing out the richness and belt in his voice, whilst he delivers the bittersweet lyrics over a steady, measured beat and distorted organ melody. ‘I don’t wanna burn like you’, Combs sings, capturing the regret as he lets go of an unreliable lover. I also loved the visceral imagery of the line ‘red is the colour of your busted lip, your busted kiss’, backed by harmonies and twangy guitar, as well as Combs’ impressive falsetto towards the end.
The final song on the album is Golden, which feels like something of a departure from what’s gone before it. It’s an upbeat. acoustic guitar and piano-led song with a gorgeous, lullaby-like feel to it and vivid natural imagery. There’s a great depth to Combs’ vocals on the song, particularly on the long notes towards the end, and a warmth and affection we haven’t heard elsewhere on the record. I also liked the Tennessee Williams reference and nod to Yusuf/Cat Stevens too. It’s a very moving, optimistic way to end the album and a side of Combs we haven’t seen elsewhere. Meanwhile, subdued bonus track You’re Like The Country highlights Combs’ drawl and high notes with its weather imagery and lingering ending.
Andrew Combs has consistently been unafraid to push boundaries and genres with his music, and Ideal Man feels like the next logical step for him in that regard. It’s a rich, varied album with a timeless feel – you could easily be listening to it in 1972 as much as 2019 – that shows off his talents as a songwriter and musician, as well as his distinctive vocals. If you’re a fan of 60s and 70s classic rock and folk, with a little bit of a psychedelic edge, then this is for you. He’s back in the UK touring later this year and personally I’m very keen to hear these songs live, as well as seeing where he takes his sound from here.
Track listing: 1. Stars Of Longing 2. Ideal Man 3. Like A Feather 4. Save Somebody Else 5. Hide And Seek 6. Dry Eyes 7. Firestarter 8. Shipwreck Man 9. Born Without A Clue 10. The Stone 11. Golden 12. You’re Like The Country (bonus track) Record label: New West Records Release date: 20th September 2019
See Andrew Combs live on tour in the UK and Ireland this December:
Wednesday 4th December – St Lawrence’s Parish Church, Biddulph
Thursday 5th December – Pleasance Cabaret Bar, Edinburgh
Friday 6th December – Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow
Saturday 7th December – Cleere’s Bar & Theatre, Kilkenny
Sunday 8th December – Lost Lane, Dublin
Monday 9th December – The Louisiana, Bristol
Tuesday 10th December – The Lexington, London