Andrew Combs isn’t someone who can be accused of sticking to a tried and tested formula in an attempt to court popularity. Quite the contrary. Since he burst onto the music scene in 2012 with the classic country folk of ‘Worried Man’ (recently re-issued by Loose), he’s since gravitated towards a more psychedelic and indie sounding release with this year’s ‘Ideal Man’ via the cocktail of Roy Orbison, Glen Campbell, and Nilsson vibes he created on 2015 ‘All These Dreams’. But the underlying themes of his writing have still persisted – musings on personal relationships and wider societal issues – the former in his opening number tonight, ‘Firestarter’, from his latest album.
Someone with Combs’ innate emotional pull is well suited to the intimate surrounds of the Lexington in London, particularly when combined with such a seemingly well rehearsed and accomplished backing band. If there was a set list in use this evening it wasn’t at all evident, and the likes of Jerry Bernhardt, seen at this venue recently supporting Erin Rae – and Charlie Whitten on guitar – seem to have an almost intuitive grasp of how to complement Combs’ emotional and harmonic vocal performance.
He follows the yearning of ‘Firestarter’ with ‘Better Way’, a song dedicated to his wife, Kristin, from his ‘Canyons of My Mind’ record which has a great guitar solo from Charlie Whitten, while he dedicates ‘Born Without A Clue’ from his latest album to his two year old daughter, who no doubt he has in mind every time he sings his ecology song, ‘Dirty Rain’, the sumptuous beauty of which would almost certainly form the highlight of anyone else’s performance, but is almost casually introduced at the Lexington, such is the high quality of everything else on offer.
From the time of the occasionally discordant and grungy sounding ‘Dry Eyes’ onwards, with ‘Stars of Longing’ and ‘Bloodhunters’ in hot pursuit, the band almost self-consciously move up a notch in pace and volume, knowing that the back end of the set yet to come has a more balladic, lachrymose focus – and by the time of the sweet sounding country ‘Too Stoned To Cry’ – the women at the front of the audience are starting to sway in time to the audience, eyes closed in semi-rapture. ‘Too Stoned To Cry’ is met by cries of “We love that song” echoed by someone else shouting out “We love you!”
The gorgeous lament of ‘Lauralee’, is a real highlight before ending the set with the calming, breezy Glen Campbell styled melodies of ‘Rose Colored Blues’. Andrew Combs encores with the lovely and world-weary ‘Rainy Day Song’ before being called back for the high falsetto of ‘Hazel’ – “a creepy song about looking in someone’s window” – on which he’s accompanied by Charlie Whitten, not for the guitar prowess he’s demonstrated all night long, but for one purpose only – his whistling, which sounds almost uncannily like it was recorded but provides some atmospheric backdrop to this perfect song about a stalker-cum-would-be lover.
At the end of his opening song, Andrew Combs said, “How about it for Mr Kirby Brown over there?” How about it indeed. Reports of quite how entertaining the East Texan had proven on previous dates on this tour hadn’t been exaggerated – so good he would have been a worthy headliner in his own right. Great songwriting on completely unsentimental Christmas themed songs like ‘Shepherd’s Lament’ were fused with the wry humour of ‘Little Red Hen (Apologies to Chicken Little)’, witty between song observations about his strict religious upbringing, terrific audience banter, and perfectly judged covers in Guy Clark’s ‘Dublin Blues’. Both these acts are must see performers the next time they return to these shores.