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Combs shows he has something to offer

House of Blues Boston, Boston, November 17, 2017

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Luke Combs rode very high into Beantown. After all, he played a show that sold-out a 2,500-person venue super fast. And the North Carolina native appeared during the same week he scored his second consecutive chart topper, "When It Rains It Pours."

But Combs didn't rest on his laurels during a satisfying show. Combs may wear a baseball cap, which seems de riguer these days for male country singers, who don't hew to the country line, but he also knew a thing or two about the genre's past.

When he namedropped Haggard and Cash during his show, it didn't sound contrived like so many of his contemporaries. He's more country sounding than Chris Stapleton and Eric Church, but they tend to occupy the same general space. Heck, Combs even utilized rarely heard instruments in country these days - Dobro, pedal steel and banjo (all from the same band member).

Combs went a bit to the outlaw country side with a cover of David Allen Coe's "Tennessee Whiskey" (also done by Stapleton) and his encore of "Can I Get an Outlaw?" from a three-song EP out a year ago, which he wore like a glove.

Combs switched to a different type of country on "Honky Tonk Highway," singing of life on the road with music that matched the style.

Combs didn't always stay traditional as hit single and regular set closer "Hurricane" was on the more commercial side and far tamer than most of his material.

Yet, Combs impressed in what came across as a straightforward, low-key performer, comfortable in his own country skin. Considering the success he has enjoyed in a short time (the crowd seemed to know lyrics to every song), that's a good thing. Success hasn't gone to Combs head - at least not based on this evening of country where he came off as a singer with something to offer beyond commercial success.

Josh Phillips was the middle act, and to say he's country would be a mis-statement. He's a rocker plain and simple and proved that with his choice of AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" as a cover. The only problem - and it was a huge one - was that his reading of one of rock's signature chestnuts was pedestrian at best. Bar bands have done far done better than Phillips. Ditto for his lifeless reading of Marshall Tucker Band's "Can't You See." Phillips was otherwise okay as far as he goes, but wasn't exactly unique.

Opener Faren Rachels (that's what her folks wanted to name her, she said) had some pretty decent country chops. It wasn't clear if earning her country bona fides also included telling us how she loves to drink a few times ("I spend a lot of my life intoxicated unfortunately," Rachels volunteered), but concentrating on the songs would have been sufficient. Rachels had a few pretty decent songs including "It Ain't Fixed" and Rachels self-proclaimed "therapy song," "If I'm Being Honest."