The only times that Andrew Combs isn't miserable, he's happy. Seems like a cut and dried statement, something that could be true for a lot of people, but examined closer, you understand that it doesn't leave much room for the middle gradient. There's no place for those ho-hum days that just leave you unaffected. There's nothing written into the equation that fits over any other form that could be taken. If there were a diagram of the different moods, or expressions that could come over the young Nashville-based, guitar-playing songwriter, it would need just two panels - one for a grim and contemplative-looking man, staring off into the distance and the other of someone who looks as if they just snuck a piece of the pie that the cook was saving for dinner's dessert. He moves himself around the two harbors of the emotion and state of love - one where the ship is docked and it's staying docked, meaning prolonged happiness and companionship, and the other where the ship has set sail and there's no turning it back around. There's the part of love when the devil has got into his woman and it's a good thing - a GREAT thing - and then there's the part of love when the devil's got into his woman and she doesn't want to see him any more.
Things can change quickly, from the kisses that he used to find so sweet, to feeling them peck dryly and without passion, leaving a mark that burns with the departure. He laments these loves and he writes them into his country songs, making each one feel as if it could have been the greatest story ever written about the subject. He sings, "We used to really be something," and this comes from him when he's moving into a blue period, when he's looking back on the girl he used to have and the time that they used to share. He gets worked up about getting worked over, or being left there at the end of the pier, seeing that ship sail.
The most endearing part of his songs about the loss or the fear of the loss of his girl is that he phrases it so that it can be used to pick the pieces back up. His songs are charming, gallant and dusty. Even on these new cuts -- "E-M-I-L-Y" and "Worried Man" -- there's this thought that his paranoia is all rooted in the greatest love that a man could ever have for a woman. Even when he sings about taking his shotgun and shooting out his baby's ankles so that she can't dance at night with that other cheater, the grisly sentiment is coming from a sweet place. We think.
He uses his accent and you can almost hear his puppy dog eyes in the way he begs a woman to not fall out of love with him, as if she wasn't already aware that it would demolish the poor man. He sings, "Love is just a drug to throw you around/Going up ain't worth the coming down," and this is his personal observation, his worst fear come alive - that coming down. He's lying to us here though. He always believes love is worth it, even if on the other side of it is the worst hangover imaginable and that misery that he loves to hate.
*Essay originally published November, 2011