Both artists' debuts struck that gentle balance between achieving country radio acceptability and impressing those willing to waste breath or bandwidth preaching authenticity. It's all entertainment, but a huge part of what makes country music special and its fandom loyal is the real people behind calculated hits. A hard-to-define sense of "everyday people" charm came across 30 years ago when Black topped the charts with"A Better Man" and "Killin' Time." Likewise, "Hurricane" and "When It Rains It Pours" introduced a regular guy to fans interested in updating their spring break playlist or hearing more twang and fewer hip-hop beats.
Of course, Black's often understated greatness was sealed when his stellar debut Killin' Time was followed by a string of great albums, starting with 1990's Put Yourself in My Shoes. For this comparison to age gracefully, This One's For You needs more than additional bonus tracks for Combs to keep measuring up to his '90s country inspirations. It needs no-filler releases like Combs' new five-song EP, The Prequel.
Opening track "Beer Never Broke My Heart" is the best ever-present jam of the summer not featuring Billy Ray Cyrus. No further introduction needed. The EP doesn't let up from there. The equally rowdy "Refrigerator Door" reminds us of an appliance that tells a truer story about our memories than our social media feeds. Better yet, "Lovin' On You" goes full-on Southern rock with its flashes of honky-tonk piano, reminiscent of the late, great Billy Powell of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Rocking country anthems from the Travis Tritt playbook give way for Father's Day anthem "Even Though I'm Leaving" and the Tim McGraw-style love ballad "Moon Over Mexico." To stick with Class of '89 comparisons, these are Combs' equivalent of "The Dance," a gorgeous and meaningful song that never drags down the jovial mood of Garth Brooks' extravagant stage show.
In all, the five-song collection proves country music fans of all types' suspicion: Combs isn't a one-album wonder.
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