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.

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