James Combs – Nice Dream if You Can Get It

James Combs
Nice Dream if You Can Get It

James Combs opens Nice Dream if You Can Get It with the breezy, irresistible “OK it’s Sunday.” Starting off your fourth album with such a terrific song – Lou Reed and Paul Simon would blush with humility at the track’s greatness – is ambitious and risky. The album’s other 11 songs generally maintain a high level of writing and delivery and include a few more treasures, but “OK it’s Sunday” is the LP’s masterpiece.

The only way to fully appreciate “OK it’s Sunday” is to listen to it, again and again, and then save the effort and just press “Repeat Track.” Imagine a rich male/female duet with vowels breathed sensuously over strings and light beats that recall The Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning.” When Combs limits the instrumental element to declare, “Men are ruled by lust / Women are ruled by passion,” Tears For Fears’ “Woman in Chains” instantly comes to mind. He later switches his philosophy on gender motivation, and Erin Shawn Hawkins’ vocals combine with his to make “OK it’s Sunday” that rare song that transcends moods and seasons.

“My Darling Enemy” crunches at a faster pace with a questionable play and pause style. The song’s redemption comes in its final minute with lush trip-hop strings and beats. Combs’ captivating falsetto duets with Hawkins continue on catchy, quieter affairs like the acoustically driven “Soft as Vapor,” the gentle tale of frustration that is “Low Go Getter,” and the album’s Simon and Garfunkel-esque title track. Hawkins’ pleading, passionate singing dominates “Low Go Getter” and demonstrates Combs’ ability to select the ideal collaborators for performance of his original compositions.

Still, Combs’ melodies drag on a few times with uninspiring choruses like those on “Lazy Son,” the psychedelic “Alive and Smiling,” and the subdued “Belle Epoch.” The whistling on “Belle Epoch” smoothly evokes the lonely west, but that’s not enough to push the song past mediocre.

Still, the album ends on a high note – literally – with the chilled-out, swinging “Burning Car.” There is some filler among the dozen tracks Combs chose to include on Nice Dream if You Can Get It, but overall, he has crafted an album that leaves most of the competition behind and occasionally penetrates the sphere of musical perfection.