The three albums released by Nashville singer-songwriter Andrew Combs so far read like his personal journal. The youngest chapter, Worried Man, is stripped down and vulnerable, leaden with introspection and poetic pleading. All These Dreams was a slow shift outside his own heartache, introducing variations in tone and pop sensibility.
His latest, Canyons Of My Mind, continues this maturation with the introduction of existential ruminations, more ominous orchestral moments and the slightest taming of his twang in exchange for a higher register. Regardless of the narratives or the instrumental backdrop, Combs evolves subtly, with a grace that demonstrates his personal awareness and a musical sphere that offers variation without sacrificing his base.
Tracks like “Heart of Wonder”, “Blood Hunters” and “Better Way” introduce a grittier take on his countrypolitan sound, where Combs’ voice carries some added gravel alongside a grungier guitar line. The result is effective and well paired to the moodiness of the melodies. In other standout moments, his voice reaches a higher plane on “Dirty Rain” and “Hazel” where his crooning falsetto entrances like a melancholy lullaby.
While “Dirty Rain” is a verbally direct protest to gentrification and environmental neglect, “Bourgeois King” has little dialogue, speaking through panging keys and the gnashing of guitars, Combs sets the growling tone of political commentary. “Build a wall to block the enemy/build a wall to keep us free,” he repeats as an echoing chorus builds against mounting strings, ending on a climactic, instrumental breakdown.
The lyrics nod to phrases used in the most recent electioneering process without directly inserting judgement. They invite affecting contemplation over opinion. A welcome bookend, “What It Means To You,” the 11th and final track (a consistent number among his records), is a curveball, a beautiful duet with longtime collaborator, Caitlin Rose, that beckons the romantic grief and tender temperament of Worried Man .
We often equate the greatest singers with the widest range, the ones that tremble and roar. Andrew Combs has never been loud. He doesn’t dress loud, he doesn’t seek controversy or even talk abrasively. And he’s never had to wail to crescendo an emotion. He does something very pure and hard to find: choosing harmony and orchestral elegance over excess. He sings in the vein of Harry Nilsson, Kris Kristofferson and James Taylor, artists whose work carries an element of effortless sincerity. Combs has shared that timeless quality since his first record and Canyons Of My Mind is an assured and accomplished continuation of that.