“Ever heard of a happy song?” That question is posed to Andrew Combs in “Rainy Day Song”, the lead track on his acclaimed 2014 album, All These Dreams, during a barstool chat with a sarcastic friend. The singer — offended but gracious — smiles and allows the moment to pass, eschewing confrontation for the sake of a gem he polishes as an afterthought for the listener: “Tab’s on me if you think I’m lying / Laughing ain’t a pleasure till you know about crying.” The moment, full of the understated charm and pulsing honesty that defines his music, is as good a metaphor as any for the songcraft of Andrew Combs.
A Dallas native now living near the same Nashville airport immortalized in the opening sequence of Robert Altman’s country music odyssey, Andrew Combs is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and heir to that 1975 film’s idea of the Nashville troubadour as a kind of musical monk. Here in the twenty-first century whorl of digital narcissism, where identity can feel like a 24/7 social media soft-shoe performance, Combs makes music that does battle with the unsubtle.
Like the pioneering color photographer William Eggleston, he sees the everyday and the commonplace as the surest paths to transcendence, and he understands intuitively that what is most obvious is often studded with the sacred. As a songwriter, Combs relies on meditative restraint rather than showy insistence to paint his canvases, a technique commensurate with his idea of nature as an overflowing spiritual wellspring. NPR music critic Ann Powers noted as much in a 2014 review: “His song-pictures are gorgeous, but he recognizes their impermanence as he sings.” This deeply felt sense of ecology, of the transient beauty within nature’s chaotic churn, lies at the heart of Combs’s approach to his art.
After touring behind All These Dreams, a record that earned him international accolades and comparisons to everyone from Leonard Cohen to Mickey Newbury to Harry Nilsson, Combs has returned with a new album that puts down stakes in fresh sonic terrain. Canyons of My Mind, out in March on New West, is — as its title suggests — a landscape where the personal and the pastoral converge. Drawing inspiration from the biographies of literary figures like Charles Wright and Jim Harrison, Combs has created an album that explores the notion of “sustainability” in its many facets — artistic, economic, spiritual, environmental.
Almighty American is the moniker of Minneapolis singer-songwriter, Michael Gay. He writes fundamentally simple songs with carefully crafted lyrics, paired with a classic sensibility and feel that will stick with you well after the fact. The songs themselves tend to consider topics like love, making mistakes, and learning how to be human. Other major influences include old books, cowboys, going fast and being free.
Growing up, Michael was enamored with the raw feeling and energy of 90’s and early 2000’s emo and pop punk. At the same time, his dad was educating him about the artists from his own upbringing, fostering in Michael an appreciation for the folk, country rock, and outlaw singers and songwriters from the 60’s and 70’s. He cut his teeth as a drummer in various bands though middle school and high school, and eventually picked up a guitar. It all started about 8 years ago with a few simple folk songs, and he hasn’t stopped since.
Recently, Michael decided to ask a few friends to help bring to life the full band sound he always imagined. He approached Andrew Schibilla (electric guitar), Joel Bowers (drums) and Beck Nebel (bass) to fill out the sound. Almighty American is a personal outlet as much as it is a means to create something meant to impact the modern listener the same way music has impacted Michael in his own life. Almighty American is about adding something fresh to a long tradition of songwriting.