Album Review: Greg Jackson Combs – Messenger
Greg Jackson Combs has a pop sensibility that can sometimes feel like U2 or Coldplay, while other times preserving a smaller, more intimate sound. But Combs writes with an urgency in his music that makes it upbeat without necessarily sounding like a party. It’s seriously upbeat, utilizing a broad mix of sounds and influences. It is eclectic pop for the discerning music fan.
Where the opener “Stranger” connects with the common person that “we all want something to hold on to,” the second track “Astronauts” utilizes a staccato drum beat and synth sounds to introduce the listener to a totally different ethos. There’s almost a tangible distancing from what ordinary people might relate to. It’s this tension of perspective – are we just like everyone else, or are we totally alone? – that seems to be the central philosophical question to Combs’ work.
Combs sings with a certain kind of desperation that shows his dedication to each and every lyrical delivery. “Good Thing” has guitars and a piano part that are straight out of the 80s. Then the vocal make it go to the next level, with a strained determination to make things work. Although the following “Thunder” changes perspectives and tempos a bit, it nevertheless highlights the sense of purpose evident on many of the other tracks on the album. Conjuring up something more akin to grunge on this one, “Thunder” shows that Combs has a versatile palette for his brand of eclectic pop.
“Oh Virginia” is potentially the best on the album. The piano really steals the show, even though other instruments occupy the space. There’s something about the big pop chords that make it feel full and satisfying. “Sometimes this world can be such a burden…” It’s ultimately a love and survival song. The related “Better” is another upbeat song full of great guitar lines. The melody of the song, like several on the album, shows a seasoned songwriter’s sense of a good line. Sometimes the vocal line distracts a bit from the top notch instrumentation, but overall the songs are enjoyable.
“No Roses” again takes advantage of some big pop chords on the piano. The relaxed opening vocal presents a different tone to Combs’s singing. The lyrics connote a complicated relationship and it all comes together for a mature sound. On a different note but with a title inspired by the same flower, “Rose Colored Glasses” brings in an organ. It’s a great track concept, but I cannot help but think of a bygone era. Oh… I get it… it’s like I’m looking back on the song with rose colored glasses. Anyways, there’s a sense of complicated relationships and a desire for it to all work out. It’s a nice optimistic way to begin the close of the album.
All told, Combs may not be for everyone, but I hear the kernel of a promising songwriting. Some of the songs are a bit lyrically heavy and complicated for my taste, but they almost all have a melody structure that I enjoy. I’d love to hear Combs work as a writer with a band that included some others on vocals as well. Even with that said, Messenger is a solid contribution in and of itself and will find fans among 70s and 80s pop fans, particularly those who enjoy Billy Joel.