Billy Strings Lends to 1st Taste of Luke Combs Bluegrass Album
In October 2020, we felt the first titillating sensation at the possibility of bluegrass flatpicking maestro Billy Strings collaborating with massive mainstream country star Luke Combs when the pair shared a picture of themselves writing and working together. Not only does Billy Strings have a golden touch when it comes to music, working with Luke Combs would most certainly raise Billy’s stock and name recognition, no matter what the end result may be.
The outcome of that collaboration called “The Great Divide” was released late Sunday night (1-31), with the night owls still up at midnight Eastern getting the first taste. But it turns out this isn’t just a one-off situation, but part of a much bigger bluegrass project Luke Combs has been working on during quarantine.
That’s right, arguably the biggest artist in mainstream country at the moment has a bluegrass album in the works, though in a missive posted Monday morning (2-1), he says the rise in COVID cases near the holidays put the kibosh on finishing the recording for this season and Combs has moved on from the side project to his 3rd major label release. But rest assured, it will still happen when time permits, with many songs already in the can.
But both Luke and Billy felt like this particular song couldn’t wait. Co-written by the pair with Wyatt Durrette, and featuring instrumental contributions by Charlie Worsham, “The Great Divide” looks to address the increasing dissonance in American society that only seems to grow louder by the day.
What’s cool about “The Great Divide” is that it’s a bluegrass song through and through. It’s not bluegrass-inspired, and not guilty of being bluegrass solely by association. And instead of working as a traditional duet with Luke and Billy trading verses which could have come off messy, Combs sings lead, while Billy sings harmony and flat picks. Both performers lean on their strengths for the benefit of the song.
The fair criticism for “The Great Divide” is that we have received so many of these types of “Kumbaya” songs over the last few months—including from mainstream country, and many in collaborative form—it runs the risk of being considered trite, similar to all the outspoken political songs we received from Americana types around election time, where the sheer frequency of the efforts diminishes each a measure, even if as standalones they speak well for themselves.
But what makes “The Great Divide” cool is that it does feel like a coming together of two disparate things in musical form. Here are two of the fastest-rising prospects from the mainstream and independent realms crossing a very real cultural divide to collaborate in song and cross-pollinate fans bases in a way that’s just cool, and we don’t see enough of.
Combs was quick to explain this isn’t a “lead single” or anything, just an important song they wanted to release in this moment in time. But it also signals his very real commitment to releasing a bluegrass album in the future. And similar to Dierks Bentley’s 2010 album Up on the Ridge, it could be a big moment for the subgenre, if not bigger from the attention Combs enjoys, and the way Luke is likely to be even more pure in his approach than Dierks was.
“The Great Divide” won’t vanquish the acrimony in America any more than the dozen other songs we’ve heard from country stars over the past few months with similar themes. But it is the job of artists to reflect the times they live in, and to share the sentiments they’re feeling. And these two coming together across a very real cultural divide that runs straight down the middle of the country music world results in art reflecting life.
February 1, 2021 @ 10:07 am
re: Combs’ bluegrass album, I feel like it’s the equivalent of McDonald’s offering steak. I’d rather get it there than a lot of other places if I absolutely had to, but I don’t really want to.
February 1, 2021 @ 10:18 am
God damnit, here it comes.
February 1, 2021 @ 10:35 am
I’m not a big bluegrass fan, but respect the talent in the art form. Not sure the message won’t fall on deaf ears in these times either. But I like the song. Great guitar playing and good vocals. I think it’s a win for the purpose of spreading awareness of bluegrass to those who may have never bothered to give it a try.
February 1, 2021 @ 10:47 am
And just like that, Bluegrass is the new Bro-grass.
February 1, 2021 @ 4:32 pm
Cup of coffee in the morn
This heart of mine on my sleeve.
Girl, you make me believe in better days to come.
Like a glass of whiskey, your soul speaks to me!!
But I’m trying to spread my wings & get Bluegrass credit
Oh, Billy’s on the Strings again
Boy can pick a banjo.
& The grass might be greener on the other side
But Blue looks good on Youu-Youuu-Youu
So I’ll be frolicking in bluegrass & evergreen as far as I can see!
February 1, 2021 @ 10:55 am
Nice little song. I have no problem with a Luke Combs bluegrass album as long as the songs are good. He is prolific isn’t he! Some artists have really stepped up during the last year and used it to write and record a lot of different things to put out for our enjoyment. We on here know who they are. While others have chosen to………….do nothing or sit on something until the world gets back to “normal” whenever that will be. I appreciate the ones that worked hard and released new music.
February 1, 2021 @ 11:22 am
Nice song. Nice sound. Should be a good album.
February 1, 2021 @ 11:27 am
Im glad this song came out, not because i enjoy the song, but because more people who have never heard of Billy will look him up on Youtube and realize that he is a genius at what he does.
February 6, 2021 @ 5:58 pm
Worked with me. Currently diving on String’s discography
February 1, 2021 @ 11:31 am
Well I do like both of these guys both for their characters and talents. So regardless of the topic of this particular song, the two of them collaborating may prove very interesting! Not sure of Luke’s voice for bluegrass but wait and see. One of my favorite bluegrass albums is Alan Jackson’s so give it a chance.
February 1, 2021 @ 11:37 am
I enjoy the little bit of picking we do get to hear on the track ….the production …the nice clean audible vocals .and I appreciate the message and the approach ……
but overall the song doesn’t do it for me .
its seems that there are too many songs written too quickly in these times and the result is that they are, for the most- part , just “OK”……many are songs in name only but not crafted from an emotional place to ensure that they will resonate or rise above the glut of music we seem to be drowning in . this particular song , to my ear and heart , seems to be one of the former .
saying all of that …kudos to these guys for doing this and NOT simply cranking out a ”by- the- book radio song ”
February 1, 2021 @ 6:25 pm
February 1, 2021 @ 7:53 pm
I love his voice here (this makes me imagine him doing some folk stuff or Doc Watson’s take on traditional songs) but the melody bugs me. It’s not hooky like traditional country songwriting tends to be. I had the same problem with Long Violent History too. BUT- man he does a good job of emoting through his voice here given what he’s working with melody-wise. And what a voice he has…
February 1, 2021 @ 11:43 am
If I heard this without having seen the article I would never think bluegrass. I would just think Combs decided to try his hand at actual country.
strait country 81
February 1, 2021 @ 12:12 pm
What a hot take on this site Ha!
Even when it’s a artist that is actually pretty decent in the mainstream theres elitist critics like yourself just proving there’s no satisfying yall unless Isbell or Sturgill
February 1, 2021 @ 4:30 pm
What? You know nothing about me and I really cant stand Isbell or Sturgill so I’m not sure what you are trying to say. You cant honestly tell me if you heard this you would say “that’s some bluegrass music right there”. I wasnt even saying anything against the guy. Geez
February 1, 2021 @ 7:55 pm
there are a few subgenres of bluegrass and this noodly stuff is one of them. It doesn’t sound like the 1950’s but there’s a huuuuge following for this kind of thing. I do think it’s interesting with this vocal take on top of the noodliness.
February 1, 2021 @ 9:33 pm
This song is bluegrass. There’s a lot of folks who want to be snotty and say it’s not, but it’s very bluegrass compared it to the many modern bluegrass records I screen through monthly. Is it Bill Monroe? Of course not. But it is very in step with modern bluegrass styles.
February 2, 2021 @ 11:44 am
This is to real bluegrass what bro county and radio country is to real country
February 1, 2021 @ 4:37 pm
Worth remembering that Combs has an advantage to Sturgill Simpson, in the sense the guy can actually sing…
February 1, 2021 @ 12:38 pm
good point …its only a steel guitar away from actual country ..
February 1, 2021 @ 11:50 am
I thoroughly enjoyed the music, but the lyrical content was corny and will cause the song to age like milk.
Hopefully they released this as a teaser and it doesn’t make the final album cut. Looking forward to to full album.
February 1, 2021 @ 12:55 pm
Agreed. I love the sound, but its acoustic country, not bluegrass. But I’m not going to argue about it, its good and means well.
On a different note, as mentioned, the ball is really dropping on writing social change songs that might actually do something.
I mean Kacey Musgrave might have actually made some people more tolerant.
I really liked Aaron Watson’s “clear Isobel’
And of course ‘this cowboys hat’
Cowboy in a continental suit could even do more.
February 1, 2021 @ 2:21 pm
It’s true. I really thought racism was done for once Brad Paisley dropped “Accidental Racist” on the airwaves 5 years ago.
I kid, but I will admit I have a huge soft spot for Corey Smith’s “I Love Everyone”.
February 1, 2021 @ 12:06 pm
Nice song, but nobody is changing their minds about anything. Looking forward to the album though.
February 1, 2021 @ 1:19 pm
I think it speaks more to Billy’s ambition that Luke’s… Who know is Billy collaborates on the whole album or just this one song? Do we know the other musicians who recorded the track? I.E. Luke’s band, Billy’s band, studio musicians?
February 1, 2021 @ 1:21 pm
Is there a character limit on posts now? This wouldn’t fit all in one reply…
For Billy Strings to “collab” with a huge artist like Luke Combs stands to bring more attention to him rather that the other way around. Are the 17 a-holes on this thread (JK, guys!, but really…) or the 786k twitter followers on Combs twitter gonna move some units for the other guy?
February 1, 2021 @ 1:30 pm
No character limit. May have just been a glitch or something. Anyone else experiencing this issue?
I believe the collaboration with Billy Strings is just this one song, though I wouldn’t be surprised if other bluegrass notables turn up to be a part of it. Charlie Worsham is also on the track. Wouldn’t be surprised if Worsham ends up being a big part of the record.
February 1, 2021 @ 8:43 pm
Also wouldn’t surprised me to see Billy be a big part of writing this record. Might not be singing on it, but I think whenever this album comes out (which honestly, is a big if) that he’ll have a ton of writing credit.
February 1, 2021 @ 3:21 pm
What’s Luke’s next radio single to be then? Odd he releases this right when “Better Together” peaks at #1 for likely its last week. Maybe he’s testing the waters out?
I’m betting “Cold as You” or “1,2 Many” could be singles.
But this will be the 6th single from the album.. Wonder if he’ll stop there & move on to the 3rd album soon?
February 1, 2021 @ 3:37 pm
Luke has been out here since 2017 serving songs.. Does anyone think he’ll run out of steam soon?
He only has put out 2 albums but I feel like he’s put out six.. Not sure if that’s good or bad. He releases way too many songs sporadically all damn year.
Is this a lead single? Is this an EP, this another deluxe album?
Is this a stand-alone release?
His marketing strategy is non-existent but he has a massive following so it doesn’t matter. It’s just continuous music being fed to us with no real creative project transitions
February 1, 2021 @ 3:54 pm
I think what you just described is a very planned marketing strategy.
February 1, 2021 @ 4:07 pm
There’s no hype , no excitement for new Luke Combs music. He constantly posts unreleased songs on his social media.
He needs a better marketing team. And yes he’s the #1 artist in country, so they must be doing something right. But I’m talking long term success strategies.
February 1, 2021 @ 8:54 pm
I would disagree. This is the best way for him to market himself. Luke has a habit of giving his fans what they want. He played Beer Never Broke My Heart (which is by far his worse single this album) a full year before officially recording it. He played it on livestream, at concerts, etc. So much so that fans knew every word to that song months before the official recording goes to radio or is in a place that people can consume it. It’s beautiful marketing and gets his fanbase excited every single time he sings a brand new song on a livestream because hey, he will probably release it within a year.
Now, who knows if he has a stable 30 year career or if this will lead to it. But I applaud the hell outta him for not being afraid to do something different, something original with the way he markets himself. The fact that record labels force artists to hold onto music until it’s profitable is one of my biggest gripes about Nashville. If the music is good, then release the hell outta it. Stop doing the every two years cycle crap.
February 1, 2021 @ 4:51 pm
Lots of folks don’t realize that the method of “one album every two years, and then tour” is antiquated.
If you want to bring in the kids (and their money), you have to stay relevant with constant releases because the collective group has the attention span of a fruit fly.
February 1, 2021 @ 5:24 pm
But will this strategy allow Combs to achieve a 30+ year career?
Luke releases stuff like he’s terrified of fading away into oblivion..
He’s a legend already. He made it.. So make us wait a little. Build anticipation!
Just my two cents.
I really enjoy his music but when he announces anything, I don’t get excited at all. This is bad because he’s only been around for FOUR years….
February 2, 2021 @ 12:43 pm
Not to say they don’t care about longevity, but the giants in the business are nearly always focused on the short term.
They know they can find another bright eyed kid to sign a deleveraged deal years down the line, if Luke gets too expensive. “What can you do for the bottom line fast enough that we can model into a reliable cash flow projection”, is the question they really want answered.
February 1, 2021 @ 7:57 pm
and that’s also the kind of release schedule that Spotify etc rewards.
February 1, 2021 @ 5:10 pm
A social commentary song from a right leaning perspective (i assumed Luke is right leaning. His regular producer Scott Moffatt as well as Scott’s father Frank regularly post criticisms toward the left flirting with cancel culture, wokism, socialism, and double standards.
John R Baker
February 2, 2021 @ 7:38 am
I’d guess that Luke Combs doesn’t give a shit about politics.
August 21, 2022 @ 10:00 pm
My friend, if you work for a living, you should not consider socialism an enemy.
February 1, 2021 @ 5:33 pm
February 1, 2021 @ 5:45 pm
This is all to the good.
February 1, 2021 @ 5:57 pm
Like the song and interested in a full record – these guys seem to be about the music – Billy Strings has been on my radar for a long time but I don’t listen to a lot of mainstream country but at the same time I have not heard a bad Luke Combs song – not going to compare the two but when Steve Earle set out to write a bluegrass record and recorded it with Del McCoury and his band it was pretty damn good – I’ll be interested if this bluegrass record has a lot of Billy Strings influence/playing on this record when it comes out.
D Ray White
February 1, 2021 @ 8:22 pm
And now the douchebags are gonna snatch up the Strings tickets…
February 2, 2021 @ 12:43 pm
I don’t know where you live, but they already get snatched up too quickly in CO.
February 1, 2021 @ 9:17 pm
… seems like a great tune to me and for you all you who know … bluegrass is the new rock n roll …
long live rock n roll …
February 2, 2021 @ 4:49 pm
this whole bluegrass thing feels like the stages of neighborhood gentrification. originally working class, then hipsters like Sturgill and Tyler move in, now we’ve got the high earning yuppie bros like luke combs just ruining it
February 25, 2023 @ 8:44 am
Billy Strings is so amazing that no one compares to him and for the “big ones” who are wanting to work with him that should say it all right there bc they know Billy Strings is one of the best musicians out there hands down!!!!