Canyons Of My Mind
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Look no further than the muted, hazy cover and inner sleeve photos of a solitary Andrew Combs seeming small and overwhelmed by the nature around him to get a sense of the overall vibe emanating from his first album since 2015’s breakthrough.
Between the ripped from the headlines social commentary of “Bourgeois King” (“We’ll build a wall to block the enemy/ build a wall to keep us free”) set against sawing strings, fluttering flute, strangulated guitar and an insistent beat, and the melancholy emptiness of searching for a lost lover in “Sleepwalker” (“I’m sleep-calling out your name”) atop a bed of brushed drums, drifting pedal steel and rubbery stand-up bass, Combs doesn’t sound like a guy who just got married to his longtime girlfriend between the release of this and his previous disc.
That’s especially the case where he pines for the unrequited love of “Hazel” (“Oh Hazel, I dream each night about your love”), laments the loss of “Lauralee” (“the bed that you once shared with me/ lies there like my enemy”) with a haunted emptiness in his already emotionally gripping hushed voice, and realizes the relationship with an unnamed woman is over in “What it Means to You” (“It was good the first time/ but all good things must end”).
Those whose ear Combs caught with his countrypolitan inflected earlier work will need to adjust to a change in sonic direction here. The opening “Heart of Wonder” pits startling, unexpected twisted electric guitar and squawking sax into a mix that lays down the gauntlet for an album that shifts moods and approaches song by song. There’s still a patina of the gentle-on-my-mind vibe from his previous collection. It’s most obvious in the breezy, string and sweet pedal steel enhanced “Rose Colored Blues,” an enticing, hypnotically melodic song that would have sounded at home next to Glen Campbell’s similarly styled productions 30 years ago.
There is also a nod to environmental concerns on the self-explanatory, deceptively sweet and tender “Dirty Rain” (“Flat and static/ paved in progress name”) which starts out with lone acoustic guitar before strings well up to augment the honeyed/sad ballad. But Combs predominantly explores the darker side concerning matters of the heart, a natural fit for his lovely and affecting voice.
Gorgeous, sympathetic production from Skylar Wilson and Jordan Lehning enhances these songs, adding the right balance of gravitas that, even with strings and backing vocals, never intrudes on Combs’ melodies. While you may wish this newlywed was a little happier, this is a superb, emotionally poignant album that displays and expands Andrew Combs’ impressive songwriting, musical and vocal talents.