Album Review – Luke Combs – “Growin’ Old”
Luke Combs may be the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year, but you get the distinct impression that he’s barely aware of it. There’s no cocksure attitude as he stands up there on stage in his Bass Pro fishing shirt with the flap across the back. He’s just a grown up pudgy choir kid from North Carolina who loves to fish and hunt and hang out with his buddies and drink beer while picking a little guitar. He never wanted to be rich and famous. He just wanted to be Luke. But he had some pretty good singing and writing chops, and next thing he knew, he tripped head first into country music career that eventually earned him superstardom and a super hot wife. That’s country music and American for you.
Country fans have always wanted to believe that their favorite artists are really just like them, and with Luke Combs, that takes no stretch of the imagination. Combs spells it all out in the new track “Five Leaf Clover” where he sings, “I know I’m a lucky man, but I ain’t sure why I am. ‘Cause it ain’t like anyone deserves the world in the palm of their hand.” It’s his everyman vibe that has ironically made him one of the top country stars of our generation. And in a world where most people hate most everything, it’s hard to hate on Luke Combs, even if his music isn’t your thing.
Luke’s last album Growin’ Up didn’t even receive a review here at Saving Country Music. It’s wasn’t that it was terrible. It was just a Luke Combs album filled with Luke Combs songs, which if you’re reaching for a quick description, you might land on something like “safe” or “nondescript.” This isn’t like Morgan Wallen whose albums are a wild-ass ride through bellicose redneck odes, tractor rap, and the occasional country ballad curiously mixed in. The Luke Combs experience is much more mild-mannered, and perhaps to some independent country fans (and Morgan Wallen fans), a bit boring. But it’s never offensive, and will surprise you in moments.
Growin’ Old leans even heavier into the surprising moments, even if it’s not entirely devoid of the boring ones too. Capturing the 33-year-old looking at life as a recently-minted full-blown adult with a wife and kid but still not entirely ready to give up his old rowdy ways, it’s a refreshing perspective for the country mainstream where we’re used to 40 and 50-somethings like Luke Bryan and Keith Urban still trying to act like they’re 23 and perpetually on Spring Break.
The opening track from Luke called “Growin’ Up and Gettin’ Old” really lays the groundwork for the 18-track album, while also bestowing co-writing credits to Channing Wilson and Rob Snyder—two deserving songwriters who’ve been beneficiaries of Luke Combs co-writes previously. Another co-writer is Erik Dylan, who along with James Slater, helps Luke Combs turn in what might be the best track on the album called “Joe.” Combs may not be sober himself, but recognizing how sobriety is part of the maturing process for many, he pays homage to all those who had a problem, but kicked it successfully, yet still struggle with it every day.
That leads into another one of the album’s standout tracks called “A Song Was Born.” There isn’t a more trendy (and tired) trope in country music at the moment—mainstream or independent—than building a song around name-dropping the titles of other country songs. Combs and his co-writers recognize this trend, but instead of falling for it, take it to a new place by introducing the true-to-life stories behind how legendary songs were penned and weaving them into the writing, making something much more inventive and entertaining.
Most every song on Gettin’ Old is co-written by Combs. But there are a few exceptions. “My Song Will Never Die” is a good reminder of the power of a good country song, and how it carries on well after the author. It’s a little cocky though to assign such a legacy to your own songs as opposed to letting history decide that, especially for someone like Luke Combs. It’s not surprising then that the credits reveal that Eric Church and his usual cohorts are responsible for the track.
Though we started this conversation talking about how Combs can be safe and predictable, covering Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” is anything but that, and really adds a unique dimension to this album that it needed, even if the Combs version isn’t especially unique. He didn’t “make it his own” as people love to say about cover songs. But he definitely does it justice.
Then you also have some of the more mundane moments of the album, including the rather passionless feeling “Love You Anyway,” which strangely was selected as the first song to be released from the record, and probably won’t help Luke’s standing with the folks who think he’s tiring. The album surprisingly avoids the list-like approach to writing pretty much throughout, but “Tattoo on a Sunburn” leans in that direction while failing to evoke the feeling of nostalgia it yearns for. Also, the California-inspired “Where The Wild Things Are” really doesn’t fit sonically with the rest of the record, and not-so-surprisingly is one of the few songs not co-written by Combs.
For sure, Growin’ Old sounds like a country record, even if those sounds are softened and generally safe throughout, similarly to much of the writing. But Paul Franklin adds some really sweet steel guitar on a host of songs, while guys like Bryan Sutton and Charlie Worsham give the album an acoustical warmth that is welcome on a mainstream country record. It may not be super country, but it’s certainly organic.
Still, what you end up with is something that feels safe, with the edges shaved down, and the harsh words removed. Luke Combs may name drop cool independent country acts like 49 Winchester and The Wilder Blue, and co-write with folks like Channing Wilson and Erik Dylan. But you always want a little more from Combs, even if Growin’ Old feels like continued improvement from him.
Sure, Luke Combs could be edgier or more traditional country, but that’s not him. He’s not the troubled soul waking up in a pool of his own filth, and then pouring his soul into heart-wrenching songs. He’s not some throwback hipster evoking 60s country styles in a vintage tweed suit, or a redneck twanger in black leather slinging a hot Telecaster, or an Appalachian hilljack braying about coal and cocaine. The appeal of Luke Combs is that he’s just a Joe up there singing easily relatable and likable songs about his life that also mirror the lives of many in his audience. As his fans are growin’ up and gettin’ old, so is Luke.
It was Luke Combs himself that after he won the CMA Entertainer of the Year award last November, stood at the podium and said, “This is my 5th or 6th year being at this awards show, and country sounded more country than it has in a long time, and I think we all wanted that.”
This quote feels like one that will define this era in country music, whatever it goes on to be called, just like the music of Luke Combs will. There is no doubt that with Luke Combs at the apex of the country genre, mainstream country music is “more country” than it’s been in a decade. It still may not be your ideal, or what you think country should be. But it’s honest, grounded, and at times, pretty good.
1 1/2 Guns Up (7/10)
March 30, 2023 @ 9:10 am
Covering “Fast Car” isn’t safe and predictable?
March 30, 2023 @ 9:21 am
If you’re a huge mainstream country star like Luke Combs, I’d say covering “Fast Car” is a pretty extreme curve ball. Maybe in the Americana coffee house circuit it’s like covering “Wagon Wheel,” but I certainly didn’t have that on my 2023 bingo card.
April 3, 2023 @ 12:51 pm
Which song from the album do you think will be the next on the radip
March 30, 2023 @ 9:21 am
What’s he gonna apologize to people that have no intention of listening to him in the first place for next?
March 30, 2023 @ 9:23 am
What’s up with an 18 song album? Can’t we just have the 12 best songs, I bet this gets a higher score if you take the weakest songs off if. Not a huge fan of this trend of longer and longer albums.
March 30, 2023 @ 10:15 am
I hate these long albums. All of them would benefit from slimming down. They are just keeping the cut tracks now.
Sir Adam the Great
March 30, 2023 @ 10:29 am
“Just because you CAN put 30 songs on an album doesn’t mean you SHOULD.” – Dr. Sigmund Freud
March 30, 2023 @ 7:21 pm
Could’ve sworn that was an MLK quote, but Freud might’ve said it as well.
March 30, 2023 @ 3:03 pm
It has to be due to the streaming model, correct?
I’m not knowledgeable enough about the economics of streaming (though it seems to be a raw deal for artists across the board), but I have assumed the recent push to do 15+ songs on an album has to do in part with artists trying to boost the amount of time listeners spend listening to them. Which in turn must help them on the various streaming platforms (economically). It’s sort of like how YouTube channels will try and target their individual videos to 10 or so minutes. It allows them to include more ads, while still being short enough to maintain audience interest.
March 30, 2023 @ 3:57 pm
It is due to the streaming models; It’s worked wonders for Drake and others in hiphop
April 1, 2023 @ 12:29 pm
Actually colon this is a simple economics of releasing a product problem. The simple fact is that the cost of buying a CD, which, in country music is a larger portion of the music distribution process than in other more traditionally, modern formats that have a predominantly younger audience. There’s simply not a lot of 30 and 40 something rap fans. There’s simply not a lot of 30 or 40 year people who have a car that exclusively plays music off their phone, and most of the people of that demographics don’t use their phone as their primary source of music listening. So in country music, especially, especially, especially more traditional country artists, especially, especially, especially Marty Stuart, George Strait, etc., but, including more modern throwback country guys that can at times include Luke Combs. Cd sales are in fact still a factor. And at the cost of a CD, audiences Want more music.
In fact, I have personally caught myself many times wishing I were getting 15 songs instead of 10 at the cost of a CD.
A third part of this equation is simply the fact that not every song is for every person. In trying to get more songs to resonate with a wider audience, the solution is not to trim the best songs, and only roll out with the best of the best, but actually to try and stretch more con tent, a little thinner to cover more categories.
I think, and the band played waltzing Matilda is the greatest song anybody ever wrote about anything, and broomstick cowboy is a strong contender for second place.
But some of them out there can’t stand either of them because they’re whiny, idealistic hippie songs. The simple fact is no matter how good your material is there is some knuckle dragging caveman, who Can’t appreciate them.
And let’s face it, playing to your strengths is so last year. That’s why Walmart won’t throw out the guy who comes in and spend $10 on food stamps twice a week and then shits on the floor in the bathroom.
Because he still spends money there. Gone are the days of getting slightly smaller profit returns on principal, and sticking to your guns about integrity, quality and commitment.
It is a luxury for people who don’t care about having the biggest hits to only turn out the best materials, and screw the people who don’t have the capacity to recognize the quality. And anyone stuck in the music room machine has to be willing to whore out to get as many potential fans as possible, and the easiest way to do that is to release the most number of songs so that everybody, from the important coffee, only beanie, hat, mustached, Carhartt gear, dork from the southside To the 60 year old grandpa who wants everything American made, and everyone in between has some thing on the record that they can appreciate.
And for some people, it’s just hard when you write a bunch of songs to have to exclude some of your children to make the record more streamlined. Both of my records of stuff I’ve written are 20 songs long.
Because I couldn’t bear to be in the studio and not give some of the stuff I’ve written need to do. After all, I went to so much work writing and rehearsing them. I should probably record them.
April 2, 2023 @ 7:13 pm
Are you nuts? Let them release as many as they are willing to, and then you decide what you like. In the past we would sometimes get albums with 9-10 songs and not all were great. I’ll take everything they want to put out and I’ll pick my faves. The more the merrier.
March 30, 2023 @ 9:42 am
Luke is my guilty pleasure. I listen to more of his music than I probably should admit. He’s like the Toyota Camry of country. Maybe predictable or super exciting and not really gonna make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. But super well-made, dependable, and always gets the job done as he should. And hey, the dude is getting Flatland Calvary to play football stadiums (yeah, I know they share management but still . . . .).
March 30, 2023 @ 10:09 am
Agreed. Taking Flatland on tour gives him an automatic atta boy in my book.
I haven’t heard his last several singles but that “When It Rains, It Pours” still makes me smile.
March 30, 2023 @ 3:06 pm
It’s funny you used the Camry analogy. I was going to use the In-N-Out or Culvers analogy for Combs. He’s fast food, but he’s good fast food. But he will never make you think you are getting the same quality meal you would from a good bar or sit-down restaurant.
But, hey, he ain’t McDonalds or Burger King like Wallen, Bryan, Aldean, etc.
March 31, 2023 @ 8:16 am
Comparing Luke Bryan to McDonalds or Burger King is an insult to both of those establishments. Quality-wise, Luke ‘Knockin Boots’ Bryan is the equivalent of a Hungry Man dinner that’s been left out of the freezer for six or seven hours before being microwaved.
March 30, 2023 @ 9:45 am
That’s two mainstream album reviews this month. Interesting
March 30, 2023 @ 10:12 am
Saving Country Music has always reviewed the top 4 to 6 mainstream country albums released in a given year. It just happens to be that in 2023, the literal #1 and #2 most popular artists in all of country music released albums in the same month. In fact, these are probably the biggest two albums that will be released in country music in the next two years, barring something big from Zach Bryan. For 15 years, every time I review something from the mainstream, certain folks act shocked and think I’m going off script. And for 15 years, it’s been untrue. I don’t control the album release cycle. I just review the albums as they come in. It might be 6-9 months before I review another big mainstream release. Or it might be next month if there is an important one.
March 30, 2023 @ 9:59 am
“He’s not the troubled soul waking up in a pool of his own filth . . .”
Reminds me of:
“I don’t know about laying in the gutter, strung out on drugs . . .”
Just struck me as funny…!
March 30, 2023 @ 10:15 am
I liked this album a lot more than I thought I would going in. Joe, Fast Car, and Where the Wild Things Are were standouts.
March 30, 2023 @ 10:19 am
Back 40 Back has been stuck in my head for the last 72 hours.
March 30, 2023 @ 10:19 am
Its a good album and I think his best yet. Not so sure about Fast Cars. I am not sure it really fits this album or that it works. Its country. It has plenty of good songs and it is well worth a listen.
March 30, 2023 @ 10:23 am
I like Luke. I am struggling to love this album. I wish he would cut a song or two from some of the people he is championing. He does write with some of those guys though. He is a great guy for using his audience to expose these artist to his fan base. That is awesome.
March 30, 2023 @ 11:51 am
I think this is better than Growing Up. It’s at least more interesting. Luke won’t ever be the critically-acclaimed outlaw some desire but he’s no sell-out either. Like you said Trigger, he’s just a regular dude. And I appreciate his presence, as I’d much rather have Luke Combs be the face of mainstream country music than Florida Georgia Line or Luke Bryan.
March 30, 2023 @ 11:58 am
Luke Combs music is like Toby Keith post-Iraq invasion. I don’t think Beer Never Broke My Heart and When it Rains it Pours are gonna hold up in 20 years. They are in the same bracket as Buy Me a Boat.
He does seem to be a genuinely nice guy from the clips I saw of him on Rogan.
Jeff O'Grady IV
March 30, 2023 @ 7:28 pm
I think those songs in particular, and a few of his others, will hold up pretty well, though some of his other songs probably won’t. Some of Toby Keith’s “post-Iraq” music is has held up pretty well; “I Love This Bar” and “As Good As I Once Was” in particular are still quite popular. Even “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” is still pretty popular, despite being a very “timely” song. I’m Canadian, and I have plenty of friends that still play that song to this day; even though we don’t have the connection to that song that some Americans might have.
March 30, 2023 @ 12:43 pm
I think Luke would have been someone I would have loved when I was a little younger. I’ll give him some serious props for bringing along some more “obscure” artist on his tour. That is a trend I’m all for.
March 30, 2023 @ 12:56 pm
To me, the Combs “bangers” like “Beer Never Broke My Heart” and “Cold As You” have always been the least interesting. This album is refreshingly free of those monotonous three-chord power rockers. Although I like all of Trigger’s choices, my favorites are “The Part” and “See Me Now.” I know the misery of life on the road is a country (and rock) cliche, but the lyrics of “The Part” rise above typical songs of the subgenre such as Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page.” “See Me Now,” which I’ve loved ever since Combs posted a solo acoustic version on YouTube more than a year ago, is right up there with “When It Rains It Pours” as far as uptempo material goes, and it’s both fun and touching lyrically.
The production, as always, keeps the focus where it should be, on Luke’s unique voice, although I love the fiddle on “Five Leaf Clover” and the very ’90s country sound of “See Me Now.” This is what mainstream country instrumentation and production ought to sound like, not that fuzzy, washy Joey Moi sound that makes even actual guitars and mandolins sound synthesized. Hopefully Luke can continue to be a positive force in mainstream country, even if he doesn’t take the chances that more adventurous country fans would like him to.
March 30, 2023 @ 1:47 pm
If Combs was the biggest issue facing country music, we would be a five-leaf clover.
He makes enjoyable music. There is always room for that.
March 30, 2023 @ 2:11 pm
You failed to mention how much co-writer Ray Fulcher was a big part of this album w 6 songs Overall I liked the new release.
March 30, 2023 @ 3:55 pm
Better than growin up and whatever Morgan Wallen had on his 36 song album; If this is how the mainstream is going to sound then I am okay with it.
March 30, 2023 @ 4:09 pm
More sell out mainstream music row country from the poster boy of selling out. Yawn.
March 31, 2023 @ 8:42 am
How can he be a sell out, when he’s remained true to his original style
April 1, 2023 @ 3:52 pm
Probably a reference to his apology for displaying a Confederate flag in a video or some such. It disturbed the anti-woke crowd.
March 31, 2023 @ 12:08 am
It’s fitting he chose to cover Fast Car because the whole album does sound a bit 90s – early 2000s pop rock. I also think he could be a bit more vulnerable lyrically. Most of the songs seem to be him being grateful about what he has which is fine and all but call me morbid, I wanted to hear more heartbreak.
Still its comforting music and I enjoyed a lot of the songs
March 31, 2023 @ 5:58 am
I like Luke Combs’ music, but I don’t love it. When he first started to make waves on radio his music was refreshing simply because it wasn’t bro-country, and because Luke seems like a nice guy who plays music that should be on the radio. It’s country enough to appeal to traditional leaning fans, and catchy and sing along friendly enough for the usual radio audience.
My biggest problem with Luke is that once he started to get traction, whether through his choice or the record labels’, there has just seemed to be too much Luke Combs. There was the EP, then the album, then the deluxe version of the album and the super duper deluxe album version, since and repeat. Throw in singles and there has been non stop Luke Combs over saturation.
This may not be a problem if there were some sort of variety or something to differentiate the albums and songs from each other, but at this point most of Lukes songs sound pretty similar to every other song he has released. With a new 18 song release, I haven’t really haven’t even gotten around to listening to this album. From the pre-release singles I’m figuring it’s most likely 18 more similar sounding Luke Combs songs.
March 31, 2023 @ 8:18 am
…to me, these two latest albums of luke combs feel like he is putting in a floor for the next two years for being as free as possible to pursue his extensive tour plans as well as finding enough time for his young family, most likely. after all, this is where most income is achieved and joy of life can be found.
“growin’ up” and “growin’ old” is decent enough luke combs output – however, lacking the more outstanding that can be found on his previous releases. “joe” is really a fine song, but not a awful lot more. if you hoped for something more – check again next time.
with a whopping 30 new songs at hand now, he has got – together with his existing catalog/hits – enough material at hand to bridge this and next year amply in order to be able to concentrate on touring at the peak of his career probably. sounds like a plan to me. then again, i would have whished for a little more than this somewhat premature midlfe resume avoiding the extraordinary.
March 31, 2023 @ 9:13 am
I like the in depth americana/kentucky coal mine coal songs, so my expectation of writing is strong.
With that said, 5 leaf clover choked me up.
Right now I’m in Africa volunteering at a charity school and watching good people who are working hard every day to hope to maybe make $1 a day. Its hard to watch and know that its no fault of their own, just that they were born in the wrong country.
The humility in 5 leaf clover is kind of exactly how I feel. Like its no point feeling guilty, its being thankful while still wanting to help those less fortunate.
For what it is, 10/10. It is an album that perfectly does everything it sets out to achieve. Its easy to listen, its country, or definitly country based, and tries to steer people to be better, happier people.
March 31, 2023 @ 9:37 am
God Bless, Blackh4t! 💜
March 31, 2023 @ 9:33 pm
Thanks, you too 🙂
March 31, 2023 @ 4:33 pm
As someone who listens to both mainstream artists and has recently got more into independent and Americana/folk music (thanks to this website for recommendations and reviews) I thought this album was really great.
You hit the nail on the head about Luke being a regular guy singing relatable songs and I thought this album was exactly that and that’s great. I didn’t really like Growin Up and was worried that he was falling off, especially compared to his other albums, but this is one is a lot better and restored my faith in the artist that helped me really get into country music.
March 31, 2023 @ 8:44 pm
I’ve never really listened to Luke Combs much beyond his hit songs. But I took the time to listen to his entire catalogue and this album has been my favourite so far.
April 1, 2023 @ 5:53 am
it’s like white bread in a sandwhich, no one hates it but it’s no one favourite part.
April 1, 2023 @ 11:20 am
I judge mainstream country by how much it makes me want to smash a radio with a sledgehammer, Luke is “thinking about getting the hammer but I have things to do and will smash the radio later”! He has a good voice but I can’t remember any of his songs. Usually that is the way I judge an album/artist (given I remember the songs for being good not total trash).
April 3, 2023 @ 12:45 pm
The song i listen to are see me now, take you with me, fast car, growin up and gettin old, tattoo on a sunburn, the beer the band and the barstool, back 40 back, 5 leaf clover, the part, sill, and my song will never die. I would recomend looking up my playlist on spotify the name of it is luke combs and my acount name is my first name.
April 3, 2023 @ 12:48 pm
You should check my spotify playlist my acount name is tman207123 is has some of my fav songs from the album
April 3, 2023 @ 2:31 pm
What song from the album including love you anywa even though ots not on the album will be his next big radio hit