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5 Takeaways From Luke Combs' New Album 'Growin' Up'
Luke Combs

Photo: Jeremy Cowart

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5 Takeaways From Luke Combs' New Album 'Growin' Up'

With his third studio album, 'Growin' Up,' Luke Combs continues to deliver his patented lyrical authenticity and chronicles a more mature — but still rowdy — phase of his life.

GRAMMYs/Jun 27, 2022 - 03:34 pm

Between his trademark fishing shirts, heavyset physique and a bristling red beard, Luke Combs has long embraced his everyman aesthetic. Not that it's always worked in his favor: At one point, he auditioned for televised singing competition The Voice, but "I got turned away because my story wasn't interesting enough," he recently told the New York Times.

Over the course of his monolithic six-year career, the very thing that kept him from potential Voice stardom has become a massive asset. Since his major label debut and first single — 2016's breakup belter "Hurricane" — he's established himself as an authentic creative force, capitalizing on his man-of-the-people status to release music that resonates with wide swaths of listeners.

In more recent years, Combs' Average Joe-ishness has been higher profile — he's partnered with brands like Crocs and Miller Lite, for example — but long before he was enough of a star to warrant those kinds of partnerships, his formula for music-making was to be unabashedly, relatedly himself. That was the case on his first album, 2017's This One's For You, and that still rings true on his just-released third project, Growin' Up.

In some ways, little has changed in Combs' music since his mainstream debut. He's still a hard-partying, traditional-country-leaning, full-throated force of a performer, and his skills on stage have only grown — enough to even win him Entertainer of the Year at the 2021 CMA Awards. But in other ways, Combs' new project represents a mentality shift, and a harbinger of the singer's ascendency to country legend status. 

Read on for five key takeaways from Luke Combs' new album, Growin' Up.

His '90s and 2000s Influences Are Front And Center

By this point in his career, Combs' fans know that '90s and 2000s country music is a major influence on him as both a songwriter and a performer. Not only has he made that clear in the sounds of his solo work, but he also teamed up with '90s hitmakers Brooks & Dunn twice — once for their Reboot version of their hit "Brand New Man," and again for Combs' What You See Is What You Get cut, "1, 2 Many."

So while it's not a surprise that Growin' Up features a strong '90s vibe, the way that Combs goes about braiding in his influences is noteworthy. It feels more like Combs marinated the songs in throwback country before recording them. 

"On the Other Line" is a playful reply to Brad Paisley's "I'm Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin' Song)," updated with modern lyrics but still as quippy and humorous as ever. The hard-charging guitars and rapid-fire lyrics of "Ain't Far From It" would feel right at home on an early '90s Travis Tritt record, while "Any Given Friday Night" has some common DNA with Tim McGraw's "Truck Yeah."

Even some of the lyrics get specific about Combs' '90s fandom, with "Better Back When" name-checking Kenny Chesney in a line about listening to his 2007 hit "Never Wanted Nothing More." 

Importantly, none of these songs are copycat — the singer has found a way to synthesize his influences into original music that still calls its predecessors to listeners' minds. As '90s-leaning sounds infiltrate today's country radio market, Combs' innate throwback inspiration may just land him a few more radio hits.

Combs' Confidence As An Artist Is Growing

Since the beginning of his career, Combs has seemingly had a pretty firm grasp on his personal brand — but he's becoming surer of who he is with each hit single and new album. That means he's not afraid to mix things up: Strands of bluegrass play into his bread-and-butter country music on songs like "The Kind of Love We Make" and "Call Me," and he's nonchalant about incorporating steel guitar alongside hard-rocking arena anthems in the songs on Growin' Up

Even more notable are the aesthetics of the album rollout itself. Over the past couple of years, Combs has started hiding Easter eggs in his social media posts and music videos, a la Taylor Swift. The music video for his Growin' Up's lead single, "Doin' This," is filled with inside jokes and shout-outs; before dropping the music video for "The Kind of Love We Make," he dropped a digital "poster" for it on Twitter, featuring song lyrics and more details in tiny print.

Meanwhile, he's getting more confident about the songs themselves. "Crazy thing is, I've only ever posted about or played live 6 of the 12 songs on the new album, so y'all have never heard half the songs..." the singer wrote on Twitter a month before he dropped his album. That might not seem so remarkable for other artists, but Combs is notorious for posting acoustic or demo versions of unreleased songs and asking fans for their thoughts. This time around, though, he didn't need the gut check. He knew the songs were good.

He's An Expert At Making Super-Personal Songs Relatable

Combs has always written his life into his songs. When he was first starting out, that was easy: A blue-collar college drop-out who sang for tips at a downtown bar after he got off work, his life played easily into country songs about working hard, stretching a paycheck and hanging around in a small town. 

But these days, Combs' average day doesn't look so average anymore. He is one of country music's biggest superstars, and has had 13 singles consecutively reach the No. 1 spot on Billboard's Country Airplay radio chart —  a feat none of his peers or predecessors have ever accomplished. He's now a jet-setting, world-touring, bona fide celebrity; if he continued to put out songs about working minimum-wage jobs and struggling to make ends meet, it wouldn't feel authentic.

So, for the lead single off of Growin' Up, he released "Doin' This," a ballad that explores where Combs might have ended up if he'd never made it as a country singer. The hook, of course, is that Combs would still be playing music whether or not he was being paid to do so: "At the Grand Ole Opry or a show in some no-name town/ I'd still be doin' this if I wasn't doin' this," he affirms in the final lines of the chorus. 

The song manages to acknowledge Combs' current reality without losing touch with his listeners' experiences — to impressive effect. "Doin' This" quickly became a smash hit, landing at the top of the country chart just 12 weeks after its release. 

If the singer struggled over his identity shift from working man to superstar, he didn't show it. His writing process for "Doin' This," he says, was organic: He co-wrote the song with the same couple of buddies that helped him pen an earlier chart-topper, "Forever After All," during a laidback co-write in his "man cave." The subject matter might be different, but the writing process was very similar to how he crafted his very first hits — and though not everyone can relate to being a country star, lots of listeners can relate to having a job they love so much that they'd be doing it even if they weren't getting paid. 

"Anybody that's really passionate about what they do and loves their job, and is doing the thing that they love to do and somehow found a way to get paid for it, this is that story," Combs pointed out to ABC Audio. Ever since the beginning of his career, Combs has demonstrated a seemingly innate knack for telling relatable truths, no matter the context, and "Doin' This" is just one more example of that talent.

Combs' Duet Choices Mirror The Country Legend He's Becoming Himself

The track list of What You See is What You Get, Combs' album from 2019, includes an Eric Church collaboration called "Does to Me." The two artists both hail from North Carolina, and Combs has long been a passionate and vocal fan of The Chief, so it made sense he'd jump at the chance to duet with one of country music's modern-day legends. 

But with the inclusion of a Miranda Lambert duet, "Outrunnin' Your Memory," on Growin' Up, Combs is starting to paint a larger picture with his collaboration choices. Duets are a fairly rare occurrence for Combs — he recorded "1, 2 Many" with Brooks & Dunn in 2019, featured on frequent co-writer Jameson Rodgers' 2021 hit "Cold Beer Calling My Name," and has shared the stage with Ed Sheeran — and he's especially selective about who he enlists on his own projects. But Church and Lambert may well represent something about the trajectory that Combs is creating for himself in the years ahead.

Neither Lambert nor Church are the country radio giant that Combs is — with 13 consecutive No. 1s, few artists are — but both are revered songwriters and performers within country music. What's more, both strike a balance between challenging the genre's limitations while simultaneously epitomizing its most cherished traditions. Combs is headed in a similar direction. He is a titan of country radio but never panders to it; he practices radical authenticity in his songwriting while never losing sight of how to relate to his audience.

For Combs, choosing collaborators could well be an exercise in surrounding himself with people who've already carved out a path similar to his own. After all, there's no faster way to turn your mentor into your peer than to spend as much time learning from them as you possibly can.

He Can Still Rock Without A Big, Marquee Beer Song

Growin' Up is the first of Combs' three albums to date that doesn't have the word "Beer" in any of its song titles. His debut, This One's For You, had the should've-been-a-single "Beer Can"; What You See is What You Get had the mega-hit "Beer Never Broke My Heart." 

While there are lyrics about beer and partying throughout Growin' Up, there is no big beer song this time around. Good-timing tracks like "Ain't Far From It" and "Any Given Friday Night" are the barnburners of the album, but beer isn't the main character of either — small-town life is. Combs also transfers the oomph of a party song into this album's ballads, such as "Middle of Somewhere," which has every bit of the sing-a-long value of "Beer Never Broke My Heart" — and enough emotional mileage to lend its name to Combs' upcoming tour

That shift was definitely intentional: Combs told Billboard that though he never wants to completely change the musical brand his fans know and love, this album does represent some newfound maturity. 

"I still wanna be the guy that goes out and has fun and puts on a great show, and that stuff is important to me, but there are also the things that have become more important, that I wasn't aware of or able to understand until they started to happen," he explained. (His personal life likely has something to do with that: Right before Growin' Up was released, Combs became a first-time father, welcoming son Tex Lawrence Combs with his wife Nicole on June 19.) 

As much as Combs wants his music to continue to adhere to his personal brand, he also recognizes that his brand is authenticity. As his life changes, so will the kind of music that comes authentically to him. Combs navigates those changes elegantly on Growin' Up, shifting his songwriting choices and musical voice to a more reflective, balanced perspective —  proving that, as an artist, he's making his biggest strides yet. 

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