A lot changed for Luke Combs in between What You See is What You Get (2019) and Growin' Up (out June 24 via Columbia Nashville). Professionally, chart success on par with peak Alabama and consistent wins at the box office paid off in November 2021 with Combs' first CMA Entertainer of the Year victory. On a personal level, Combs wed longtime girlfriend Nicole on Aug. 1, 2020, and the couple welcomed its first child, a son named Tex Lawrence Combs, just five days before the new album's release date.
Naturally, fame, family and figuring things out inform Growin' Up at a time when Combs' perceptions of all three have changed drastically, allowing us to better know a singer-songwriter promoted over the past five years as ordinary and accessible.
Here's Wide Open Country's breakdown of Combs' third studio album for a major label, following This One's For You (2017) and What You See is What You Get (2019).
An album titled Growin' Up fittingly begins with the most introspective of Combs' 14 straight Billboard Country Airplay No. 1s.
When asked by a reporter about what he would've done with his life had his meteoric rise played out differently, Combs reckons that he would've found contentment spending the rest of his days singing in smoky bars for tips.
"There was never a plan B. Once I decided that this is what I was gonna do, it's what I was gonna do whether that was at this level or at the level that I was at when I started," Combs shared in a press release. "Music is the thing that I think makes everybody who does what I do's blood pump and gets them out of bed in the morning, and just to be able to do that and write a song about it that you feel like genuinely can connect with some of your peers is really cool."
"Any Given Friday Night"
"Any Given Friday Night" fits the long lineage of party songs that idealize the small town experience. That's not to call it a carbon copy of Tim McGraw's "Down on the Farm," though it does rely on some of the same lyrical tropes. What sets it apart is that added guitar punch that sounds like it could've been lifted from an '80s soundtrack selection by Glenn Frey or Cheap Trick.
"The Kind of Love We Make"
The sexy swagger and general coolness of Combs' most recent single beckons back 40 years to Conway Twitty's hit version of "Slow Hand" without sounding dated.
It's one song that for sure puts fatherhood in perspective for Combs and his regular collaborators.
"I wrote this song in Montana with Dan and Reid Isbell and my guitar tech Jamie Davis, who used to be in a band with Dan," Combs shared in a statement. "I met Jamie through Dan. Jamie had the idea, and Dan and Reid brought it to me and I thought it was a killer melody. It ended up being one of those songs that wrote itself. Dan, Reid and I are all having kids within a month of each other, so maybe this song had something to do with that."
"On the Other Line"
Coincidental or not, "On the Other Line" mirrors the same appeal as one of the best songs of 2021: Old Dominion's "I Was on a Boat That Day." The basic theme of both follows a lead character who's too distracted by redneck recreation for any romantic drama to harsh their mellow. It's the best non-single (so far) on the album, a potential radio hit and Combs' funniest jam since the equally sarcastic "When It Rains It Pours."
"Outrunnin' Your Memory" (Feat. Miranda Lambert)
Combs sings about loss and regret with another Sony Music Nashville megastar, Miranda Lambert, on what's got to be a shoo-in for a CMA Musical Event of the Year and ACM Vocal Event of the Year nomination. The fast-driving yet breezy country throwback makes the most of two powerhouse vocalists and premiere storytellers' debut duet.
"Used to Wish I Was"
Combs promises here that he never stopped being a Carolina good ole boy— a musical statement about not getting too big for your britches in line with Faith Hill's "Mississippi Girl." He also pokes fun at childhood dreams to be Dale Earnhardt and Chipper Jones in a way that dials in on that everyman-as-superstar charm that's been evident ever since "Hurricane" shook the country radio status quo.
"Better Back When"
Another surefire hit, Combs' "Better Back When" reminisces about simpler times with college buddies. In the context of Growin' Up, it comes across as a glance back at a prior chapter just a few paragraphs into a new one.
Combs turns back the clock to George Strait's commercial heyday with this first-person perspective on a romantic encounter that's sure to spark less-than-positive internal dialogue the following morning. It's a story you've heard before: less because of a lack of originality in country music and more because its best singers tell evergreen truths.
"Ain't Far From It"
Combs and his band launch into high-speed hard country, John Michael Montgomery style, in something that's suddenly rare for Combs at this point in his personal and creative journey: a beer-drinking song. Overall, it's how a '90s country homage with modern production elements should sound.
Another could-be radio hit, "Call Me" considers what The Persuaders called the thin line between love and hate. The lead character knows that although a recent flame is bound to insult him to their mutual acquaintances, he's the first person she'll call on a lonely, drunken night. It's one of the album's best showpieces of Combs the storyteller.
"Middle of Somewhere"
While songs like "Any Given Friday Night" glamorize youthful indiscretion, "Middle of Somewhere" sidesteps toasting those who peaked in high school or as an undergrad and gets to the root of why those partiers' parents never left small town America.
"I've been in Tennessee now for seven or eight years, which is insane to think about," Combs told Kelleigh Bannen on Today's Country Radio. "Then when me and my wife got engaged, we bought a place it's an hour from town. A small town, small town. Fell in love with it. Fell in love with the place, my neighbors are just awesome folks. Everybody that I've met there is just so great. But, you can tell that everyone's really proud to be from this town that nobody that hasn't lived there has ever even heard of... Just that whole thing is where that song came from, was this feeling of being connected to this little town that we live in and the people that live there and how great they've been to me and my wife. The respect that they have for our privacy. They just have become protective, even in a way it feels, of us a little bit. They want to help us out. They don't ask for anything in return."
That's the sort of big-picture perspective that makes Growin' Up an apropos album title.
"Going, Going, Gone"
On this solemn album closer, Combs sings about the thrill of an ultimately fruitless chase of someone who's not ready or willing to find contentment by settling down and starting a family.
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