By Will Groff
Most notably, there are moments here where Combs transcends the limits of his own dependability.
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
When Luke Combs’ third album, Growin’ Up, arrived last summer, it was something of an anomaly. In the era of extremely long country albums — something that has pretty much upended the charts — Growin’ Up stood out for the sheer reasonableness of its length. A 12-track, 41-minute album from one of country’s heaviest hitters, at a time when the competition’s albums were stretching easily past the 90-minute mark… really?
Turns out, Growin’ Up was just part of the picture (literally). Less than a year later, Combs is back with a follow-up, the 18-track Gettin’ Old. Written and recorded at the same time, the two albums comprise 30 songs and nearly two hours of material, much more in line with recent chart-toppers by the likes of Morgan Wallen and Zach Bryan.
Like its predecessor, Gettin’ Old finds Combs staying largely in his comfort zone. But its extended length allows Gettin’ Old to go to more varied — and sometimes surprising — places. Most notably, there are moments here where Combs transcends the limits of his own dependability.
Take ‘Joe,’ for example, which starts off in familiar territory. ‘I got a job and my name’s Joe,’ Combs sings, and we brace ourselves for another everyman anthem. We learn that Joe works at a Texaco, did some time for a minor offense and (here’s where it gets interesting) doesn’t drink. ‘Joe’ slowly reveals itself as the rare commercial country song that treats alcoholism with any degree of seriousness. Instead of another blaring track about getting shit-faced, ‘Joe’ is a smart, warm ballad about sobriety and all that it entails.
Then there’s ‘See Me Now,’ which finds Combs looking at his life and career through the eyes of his late grandfathers — and taking pride in what he sees. Where Growin’ Up occasionally felt defensive about fame, like Combs was trying to prove that he’s (improbably) completely unchanged by becoming an absurdly wealthy country star, it’s nice that here he’s able to own his success for a change.
Growin’ Up was sturdy but sometimes slight, a familiar mix of songs about small-town pride, love and heartbreak. By contrast, Gettin’ Old is more contemplative and attuned to the bigger picture. The two songs at its center, ‘A Song Was Born’ and ‘My Song Will Never Die’, both find Combs contemplating his musical legacy.
The Merle and Willie-referencing former is preoccupied with the past, whereas the latter looks to the future: ‘I will, but my song will never die’, Combs sings. Taken together, they suggest that Combs is more thoughtful about his craft and place in the canon than he generally lets on.
While there’s no ‘When It Rains, It Pours’ here — no knockout that finds Combs transcending the form — but there’s also no ‘Beautiful Crazy’, to date his most grating single. Really, the love songs here (‘Still’, ‘Love You Anyway’) are pretty solid, offering some sharp turns of phrase amid the usual platitudes.
The obvious highlight of the set is Combs’ take on Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’, a song he’s been known to cover dating back to his Vine days. It’s the most animated he sounds across both albums, a rare glimpse of what his voice can do when paired with material that’s genuinely worthy of his talents.
Of course, with this much material to work with, the album is stronger in some places than others. But apart from some obvious moments of filler (‘Tattoo on a Sunburn’, anyone?), Gettin’ Old is unexpectedly engaging.
7.5 / 10.
Luke Combs' 2023 album Gettin' Old is released March 24th via Sony Music Entertainment.
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