The latest stint on the road by Nashville troubadour Andrew Combs appears to have been instigated for a couple of reasons, but what they are is open to debate. His most recent record was 2018’s personal experiment with youthful inspirations 5 Covers And A Song, but these tracks do not make it on to the setlist this evening at Gullivers, Manchester.
His 2012 debut album Worried Man was re-released just a few weeks ago including re-cut versions of a few tracks, but Combs introduces the only number from that album, To Stoned To Cry, this evening by revealing that he finds much of the record incredibly difficult to listen to, considering how far his life and his music has evolved since its original release. Maybe he’s on the road because of label demands, but one is left with the impression that it’s perhaps because he just loves to play and with a new album coming later in the year, we’re given an insight into several of these new tracks, along with a reminder of how good his 2017 record Canyons Of My Mind is.
The crowd in Gullivers is a tad underwhelming; the winter has decided to bite and the unfortunate clash with a United home game and the huge Massive Attack show at the MEN has perhaps swayed people’s minds. What they miss is a sweet, display of gentle Americana fortified by Andrew Comb’s exquisite vocals.
Canyons is a much more complex record than its predecessors and to ensure that the vital textures are not lost in this more stripped-back presentation, Combs has brought fellow Nashvillian Charlie Whitten along for the ride. Whitten opens the show with a handful of tender songs full of the visual iconography of the Americana genre, but his contribution on guitar for Andrew’s set possesses the necessary edge that Canyons in particular is charged with.
The opening songs remind us of the taut, acoustic melodies of sophomore album All These Dreams but when Dirty Rain arrives, we’re given an insight into the catalyst for the more crestfallen tone. “We’re fucked!” he exclaims in reference to the environmental precipice which we seem to be teetering on and the song is about the impact of this on his young daughter. Although the swooning majesty of the strings on record is missed, the emotion of the track is still real. The importance of Combs’ family life is demonstrated by the tenderness of Like A Feather and the more desolate Lauralee establishes the influence of particular songwriting partners in his life.
The aforementioned Too Stoned To Cry is followed by a melodic peak in the set, as new song Firestarter is followed by the deliciously dark Blood Hunters. Despite the lack of the funereal march of the drums, Charlie Whitten steps up to provide the edgier, more abrasive guitar tones that are found on record and Combs’ dulcet chorus soars with just the right hint of unease.
After the more traditional sounding Suwannee County, Andrew introduces a couple of new songs suggesting a more cynical approach to the next record when it comes. Until then, we’re left with fan favourite Foolin‘ and the shadowy Hazel, in an encore which sees one fan faint with a disconcerting thud. That may very well be the effect Andrew Combs and his darkly romantic slice of Americana has on folk.
Words & Images by Iain Fox