Neil Hallam has had his ears around the new album from Luke Combs, full of story, sentiment and heart, and wonders where this is all leading…
Is it really almost 7 years since Luke Combs blew in much like a Hurricane and began his almost total dominance of country music? Since that time, in addition to all the platinum records, the huge selling tours and the stack of awards he’s received, he’s done what few artists genuinely achieve. He’s become his own brand.
Coca-Cola. KFC. Luke Combs. Names that are enough to form a pretty clear image of what’s on offer, an expectation of what you should receive. And that in turn forms a certain loyalty between consumer and producer. You know the brand will deliver, every time. It won’t let you down.
So if you’re familiar with the brand, and I’m betting that you are, Gettin’ Old does not let you down. But it may cause you to pause and think about just what it is that you appreciate about Luke Combs. It’s been labelled by Combs as a “companion piece” to Growin’ Up, his release from 2022. You could play both albums back-to-back as if they’d been issued as a double album, and they’ll sit very nicely together if you choose to do that. Put the 2 album covers together and you’ll see how intentional that is. But I’ll focus on Gettin’ Old here.
Combs himself has described the new album thus; “This album is about the stage of life I’m in right now. One that I’m sure a lot of us are in, have been through, or will go through. It’s about coming of age, loving where life is now but at the same time missing how it used to be, continuing to fall for the one you love and loving them no matter what, living in the moment but still wondering how much time you have left, family, friends, being thankful, and leaving a legacy.”
If you read that and think to yourself, “Ok, so this is going to be an introspective, reflective, downbeat kind of an album”, well, you’d be right – and also wrong.
Things kick off with what is effectively the album’s title track – Growin’ Up and Gettin’ Old. Straight away he’s in that reflective mode, realising that he’s neither as able nor as willing to tear it up as often as he used to, that he’s not as young as he once was – but he’s not completely done yet. If that slightly weary outlook seems a little out of place for a 33 year old, well, he’s just telling you his truth. He’s a family man now, balancing his youthful impulses with his mature responsibilities. As he says in the quote above, it’s part of the stage of life he’s in now, and many of his fans will readily connect with it.
If you’re looking for the carousing, stadium sized stompers like Beer Never Broke My Heart and 1, 2, Many, you will find similar tracks here. Hannah Ford Road is an early exemplar, and will go down a storm in those large scale live sets. But it shouldn’t surprise you to find that those tracks here are just a little less muscular, a little more intimate and mature and, as such, a little more genuine. There’s less of the artifice in them, and more of the artist.
It’s easy to get pulled in by those rocking, rollicking barnstormers in the Combs catalog. They’re such crowd pleasers and are guaranteed to set any night on fire. But there’s always been more to him than the big party songs. One thing that comes across very clearly to me through Gettin’ Old is just how good a storyteller Luke Combs is. Not just through the writing – and there’s some excellent writing here – but in his delivery too.
That worn, gravelly rumble in his voice is so characterful. He’s become very skilled at just holding it back a touch, and letting the tale itself take centre stage. Whether it’s a song like the title track where Combs himself appears to be the subject, or in Joe where he adopts a separate character with a whole other background, the way he gives life to them is… convincing. And that’s a gift in itself.
Kenny Rogers used to talk about the difference between a singer and someone who can sing. A singer may not have the “best” voice, but they do have the ability, the skill to draw the song with a detail and texture not found in the lyrics and melody alone. Bringing that big, raucus, raising hell holler under control to relate the softer, more sensitive material like Take You With Me and The Part continues to show that Combs is a much better singer, in that context, than some might give him credit for. Hearing his take on an iconic song like Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car merely cements that.
As album titles go, Gettin’ Old for me is a pretty risky choice for a man in his early 30’s still riding a hugely successful career wave. Most music fans are like magpies. We’ll hold on to what we have, cherish it even, but we’re always looking for something new and shiny to be excited about. And in the music industry in particular, there’s always someone coming up behind you and sooner or later, one way or another, they will knock you from your perch. In that context, it’s a brave man indeed who does anything that as much as hints at any kind of waning of his powers and energy.
Wistful songs about aging, slowing down, the warm comfort of nostalgia and pondering how many grains of sand are left in life’s hourglass are not instinctively the themes that chart hits and stadium-sized world tours are built on. But that’s much of what you get with this album. John Lennon famously said he didn’t want to be singing She Loves You when he was 30. It feels as though Luke Combs is at a similar junction. He’s betting his fan base is there with him and ready to head in the same direction with him. It is a gamble, but one he was surely going to have to take eventually.
Gettin’ Old won’t set many pulses racing, but I don’t think it’s really meant to. At least, not in the “here’s a new set of bangers” kind of way. It is a really good album that for me stands up solidly in his catalog. Overall the atmosphere is a little downbeat, relatively speaking. But listen more closely and there’s an undercurrent of hope, positivity, perseverance and endurance.
Taken as an album in the traditional sense, it is very strong with a clear tone and thread throughout. That said, we’re firmly in the age of the playlist now. Listeners who consume music on a per album basis are less common. How many of these songs individually will make the cut and find a permanent home on your smart speaker?
For me, the value of Gettin’ Old is as an album, as a mood, as an outlook, as a whole. There’s texture, contrast, feeling that’s better understood when digested in completeness. And it definitely rewards repeated listens, something that should please album fans such as myself. I’m betting those playlist adds will grow over time. With the passing of time being such a touchpoint for the album, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
It’ll be interesting to see how Gettin’ Old is eventually held alongside those previous mega-albums that established his position in the country music upper echelons and prompted a succession of artists to follow in his stylistic wake. It’ll be even more interesting to see where Luke Combs chooses to go from here, because this album opens up the possibilities for the next phase of his career quite nicely. Personally, I hope he keeps taking the gamble.
Luke Combs – Gettin’ Old – Track Listing
1. Growin’ Up and Gettin’ Old
2. Hannah Ford Road
3. Back 40 Back
4. You Found Yours
5. The Beer, the Band, and the Barstool
7. See Me Now
9. A Song Was Born
10. My Song Will Never Die
11. Where the Wild Things Are
12. Love You Anyway
13. Take You with Me
14. Fast Car
15. Tattoo on a Sunburn
16. 5 Leaf Clover
17. Fox in the Henhouse
18. The Part