Brad Combest

Prettier Than Ugly

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Since Nashville is now the faded ground zero of awful, blander than bland, clich├ęd country music, why can't Memphis, home of soul, breathe some of the old, grand life into the once-priceless genre? And why not Memphis indie commune label of sorts, Makeshift? On his debut LP for the supportive little guys, Combest isn't content to serve up a whole LP of narrow alt-country you'll be expecting in the vein of the sweet harmonica and pedal-steel-'n'-all opener "Every Once in a While." Instead, after briefly trying a bouncy guitar and farfisa new wave ditty, he really hits paydirt with a wonderfully creaky Paul Westerberg-like crystal ballad called "Diamond" that sparkles through the rust (forgive that). From there he keeps it slow, sweet, and back-porch like. It's back to the pedal steel and hushed acoustic on "Dreams," "What Does it All Mean," and the Dylan-esque "All That's Left," but they're timeless and sad, like being stranded on a deserted Oklahoma highway. Like Westerberg, the more thin/croaking-voiced Combest sometimes permits his warbling to stray from pitch, but it just makes him sound more unpolished and authentic (usually, it just makes you sound less talented and irritating). It's that authenticity and pure country spirit, the kind handed down from old bluegrass and early C&W, that shines through this spontaneous sounding, very loose, rather sweet LP. Its title is correct. (www.makeshiftmusic.com)