The follow-up to 2015's excellent All These Dreams, Canyons of My Mind delivers another sepia-toned blast of high, lonesome, and heartfelt Americana that dexterously weaves together the warmth of classic '70s singer/songwriters like Ian Matthews and Don McLean with the cordial indie folk-rock of contemporaries like the Avett Brothers and the Lumineers. Co-produced by Skylar Wilson and Jordan Lehning, both of whom worked on his last record, the 11-track set features some of Combs' strongest writing and crooning to date. Built around some lofty themes -- Combs has cited sustainability as the narrative through-line -- Canyons of My Mind feels personal, and that sense of intimacy extends to the arrangements as well, which, outside of a few soaring moments, are less overtly countrypolitan this time around. Combs cites the biographies of Jim Harrison and Charles Wright as inspiration, and both writers' love for vast open spaces and the transformative power of travel is evident throughout. Wanderlust, spirituality, and ecology make for excellent bedfellows, and that holy trinity fuels many of the album's finest moments. Lead single "Dirty Rain" bemoans heartland sprawl ("flat and static paved in progress' name"), but its dystopian vision is tempered by Combs' fluid falsetto and a late-track explosion of strings that sounds like the heavens opening up to reseed. Rollicking opener "Heart of Wonder" looks both inward and outward, marveling at the elusiveness of beauty in all its guises, while the rail-riding anthem "Rose Colored Blues," with its cycling shakers and rolling strings, plays like an updated version of Glen Campbell's "Gentle on My Mind." It's compelling stuff, and Combs imbues all of his characters, no matter how lost they may be, with humanity and humor, and it's that knowing nod to vagabond life that makes Canyons of My Mind so easy to get lost in.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger