Show review: Andrew Combs at New Mountain

The term “countrypolitan” is new to me, but it’s been tossed around a bit in regard to All These Dreams — the new album by Nashville-based singer-songwriter Andrew Combs. Countrypolitan references a handful of players that followed “the Nashville sound” — a ’50s-era sub genre of country music where honky-tonk edge was polished and produced. If there’s a vintage feel to Combs’ new album, it has more to do with the studio treatment of his songs. Onstage, he successfully marries thoughtful songwriting, skillful performance and the kind of hooks and melodies that feel at home in country songs but ultimately transcend the genre.

20150418_224245_LLS_resizedCombs and his band opened for Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers at New Mountain on Saturday as part of the after-party following moe. on the venue’s outdoor stage. The crowd was party-weary from several hours of live music and beer, but seemed instantly entranced by the opening notes of “Foolin’.” Rhythmically clever, swaying as much as it rocks, the song established Combs’ professionalism.

“Heavy,” from the musician’s 2012 full length debut, Worried Man, was slow and deliberate with snapping percussion. “Don’t you come around with the devil on your breath,” Combs sang, his voice all rounded notes and just the slightest twang. In fact, the twang is less a nod to country aesthetics and more an extension of the ache Combs encapsulates in his songs. Every element of his composition seems purposeful — on the soulful “Please, Please, Please,” the drummer played with mallets. It’s those kind of choices that underscore the eloquence of the music.

The band picked up the pace of the title track of Combs’ new album, and then moved into the moody minor keyed “Month of Bad Habits.” That song hits an emotional chord, sharp-edged even as Combs’ voice is at it’s duskiest. The album version swells with string arrangements but on stage the song built to a loud and jagged guitar solo.

Combes introduced “Too Stoned to Cry” — a slow waltz — as “a song my mother hates,” and then finished his set with “Emily.” That songs doesn’t appear on any of Combs’ recordings (it’s a single on Amazon) but seems to have earned a sort of cult favorite status — perhaps because it has a singalong chorus. Despite the musician’s best efforts he never quite got the New Mountain crowd to provide decent accompaniment, but the songs was still poppy, clever and utterly deserving of a subversive line-dance music video.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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