Andrew Combs: Ideal Man

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Andrew Combs
Ideal Man
(New West)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Things change, but not excessively, on singer-songwriter Andrews Combs’ fourth full-length release. After all, with his beautiful, some might say sensuous, doe-eyed voice, it’s not like Combs is going to suddenly go hard rock on us.

A recent infatuation with painting is responsible for a variation on how these songs were written. He started with an emotion then added and subtracted words as the concepts took shape. That not only resulted in often shimmering tracks, but inspired a painting associated with each one. Additionally, production by Sam Cohen (also a multi-instrumentalist member of Combs’ studio backing quartet) that captures live-in-the-studio performances with minimal overdubs, pushes the performances into a somewhat more psychedelic area.

Those enamored with Combs’ previous work needn’t worry — these songs maintain the compelling melodies that made his previous albums so captivating. He continues to question his place in the universe with “Born without a clue/ We were born just for something to do.” In “Shipwreck Man,” he sings, “Shipwreck man with a shaky hand/ No anchor to the world, no sight of dry land” atop a sweet countrypolitan groove. And on the floating “The Stone,” he muses, “All the time, I’m inside my head” with a floating melody cushioned on a bed of Donovan-styled laconic folk-pop.

Since Combs recently welcomed a newborn into the world, it’s no surprise he pens a tune to her in “Golden.”  Here he accepts responsibility to protect the child, singing, “One foot in front of the other/ I’ll be right here …” over tinkling piano and subtly burnished percussion.

The combination of Combs’ dewy voice with similarly constructed, albeit marginally grittier music is a perfect match and his reservations about the path forward in life are universal. The fresh approach gently but firmly thrusts him into slightly more rock-oriented territory that makes even his most searching lyrics feel grounded and clear.          

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