Album Review: Andrew Combs – All These Dreams
Andrew Combs’ new album All These Dreams is one of the best country albums I’ve heard in years. He is in the company of country renaissance artists like Sturgill Simpson, Rayland Baxter, and Robert Ellis. The songwriting and performance on this album are at an extremely high level. The vocals sound as authentic as possible, all while harkening back to an earlier era of country music where lyricism and genuine emotion ruled the day. This is an immediate album of the year candidate.
The album opens with one of the best songs, “Rainy Day Song.” The melody rises and rollicks over a captivating set of poetic lyrics about the importance of enduring life in the midst of struggle. “Ain’t it funny how a little thunder makes a man start to wonder, should he swim or just go under?” The thing about this song is that the instrumentation and structure are simple. The steel and electric guitars dance together, allowing the lyrics to shine through perfectly. It’s the kind of song that gives perspective on life in all the right ways.
“Nothing To Lose” just sounds like classic country. The steel guitar steals the show. Combs channels George Strait with this vintage moxie that’s rarely found in country music today. He’s not trying to hoot and hollar. He comes in, dripping with honesty and sincerity, showing how being a man with nothing to lose makes him a better man than most.
“Strange Bird” is another great song. Of course there are layers of imagery in it. The finger picking in the opener sets up a delightful classic country two step for the rest of the song. “She’s a strange bird… somewhere up high she’s sitting on a wire for me.” The extended metaphor about birds-as-women is right on the line between cheesy and extremely well done. It reminds me of something Willie Nelson or Kris Kristofferson could have written. If you’re not familiar with what a compliment that is, stop reading this review and go look them up (then come back, please).
The track “Pearl” has a brooding minor key presence that reminds me of a few songs on Jason Isbell’s young classic Southeastern. Speaking of metaphors, though, there are several layered metaphors in this one. “Bless the hands that made every one of them…” is in reference to a few people in the song who have various bumpy roads in life. It’s the nameless, faceless characters that make the song so infinitely relatable. We all know someone who is a “pearl in the rubble.” Heck, many of us are those broken, outcast, and downtrodden types. This is our song in its own rickety-yet-inspiring way.
The class of the album and a certain song of the year candidate for me is “In the Name of You.” It’s a heartwrenching, sweet declaration of love. The lyrics are full of sincerity. The instrumentation works really well too, with a piano lead, strong standup bass, backing strings, and just enough organ to give it the highlight it needs. The lyrics have those sentiments that all of us who know true love can feel – there’s a little regret about what we get wrong, a little pride in what we get right, and the assurance that “I do it all in the name of you.” Just stunning.
The title track “All These Dreams” is a great full sound that’s almost in the alt country world. It’s got a feeling of hope and future to it. It’s about a man missing someone special, full of dreams about what could have been. It’s followed by a completely different track called “Slow Road to Jesus,” which feels like a plodding, rambler’s solo. It’s about drunkenness and a subtle way to describe killing himself by drinking. In addition to some pretty morbid and depressing lyrics, the music itself creeps up and down with minor chord turns that give the song style. It’s a bluesy country song that is far more complex than anything coming out of popular country radio today, but this is exactly what should make the Nashville machine shudder with fear.
Speaking of drinking and the blues, “Month of Bad Habits” is absolutely right up that alley. “It’s going to take more than a month of bad habits to get me over you.” It’s a plain old classic blues song with some steel guitar and tidy production quality. Despite the polished sound, the lyrics are gritty and raw. The final track “Suwannee County” is a beautiful country anthem that sounds like something off of Rayland Baxter’s latest album. It has the narrative quality that made the classics like Waylon Jennings so good. It’s about appreciating life in a rural place, most likely an inspired home, and all of the emotions of that non-distinct but special place.
Frankly, this is country music without the big belt buckle. And I couldn’t like it more. Anyone that trusts my evaluation of music should buy this album, it’s that simple.