Andrew Combs & Barna Howard – Jumping Hot Club, Newcastle


Andrew Combs & Barna Howard
Jumping Hot Club
The Cluny II

11th Sept 2015

Technically billed as a gig by Andrew Combs (and band); last seen in these parts back in January when he opened for Justin Townes Earle; but in my humble opinion it was a ‘double header’ as Barna Howard has a great album out and is a Star in the making.
The young native of Missouri looked the part in his trucker cap, stone washed Levi jacket, skinny jeans and tan cowboy boots; but it’s his songs that people will remember.
While sits somewhere between Gordon Lightfoot and perhaps Gram Parson on the Country scale, Howard has his own sweet, distinctive voice and accompanies himself with some complex guitar picking.

barna howard V
Just like on his self-titled debut album Bitter Side of Blue and Indiana Rose were outstanding tonight making him a very hard act to follow.
Sporting a great big Stetson and a bootlace tie Andrew Combs looked every inch the Country Star as he strolled onto the stage in the intimate bowels of the Cluny.
With no discernible introduction, save a nod from the singer to the drummer the band launched into Foolin’ at 90mmph and 100db; which I wasn’t expecting but instantly loved.
This was followed by Heavy from his 2012 debut album; and again sounded like a curve-ball as it was a heavy riff-driven song with a rumbling guitar/drums combination at its heart. Very Alt. Country not unlike Wilco or Granddady in the olden days.
We were soon back on track with the mean and moody Please, Please, Please which was the first of many songs to feature thick, luscious three part harmonies.
I was surprised to hear the title track of his latest album These Dreams turn up so early in the set; as it’s my favourite track of his and most other artistes would have kept it for the end.
That song actually jump started an already excellent gig; with Pearl and Shine on Rainy Day both sounding even more exciting than on album and also when he performed them solo earlier in the year.
There wasn’t much chat between songs; with the best being about being homesick in Galway during a week of torrential rain which led to the delightful Tennessee Time.
A very attentive and relatively large audience applauded long and loud after every song and a few even whooped with delight, especially when they recognised Too Stoned to Cry.
Combs was visibly and verbally embarrassed when he returned alone to the stage for an encore. The song; currently unrecorded but first sung on his last visit was Silk Flowers and was probably my highlight of the evening. Comb’s singing was so brittle and sensitive it actually felt a little like were intruding on a private conversation.
As the applause nearly lifted the ceiling off the drummer and guitarist returned to provide glorious harmonies on a stunning song called Nothing to Lose; which was one half of the Tour 7 inch single coupled with a Barna Howard song.
Like Howard before him Andrew Combs has a distinctive voice that doesn’t really sound like anyone else; and his ‘sad love songs’ (quote) are really well written and constructed and played out by a great band of musicians. Obviously Combs is the front man, but he is ably supported by a bass player from the John Entwhistle school of ‘less is more,’ a drummer who keeps time like a Rolex and a guitarist who is as imaginative as he is theatrical; combining to make a helluva group.
It won’t even take the stars to align for these two o be playing much bigger halls in the very near future; which will be a shame for the Jumping Hot Club but natuaral justice taking its course.