It’s been an age-old practice in country music to find yourself on autopilot when touring demands, marketing deals, appointments, marriage and parenting and other aspects of life take over your attention leaving little time for the actual thing that made you a star in a first place. Fortunately for country music fans, Luke Combs hasn’t been on autopilot at any point in his career to date. Even if his first three albums seemingly fell into a similar sonic sameness, if you actually listened, there was musical growth and slight changes throughout each successive recording but nothing might’ve prepared anyone for Gettin’ Old, follow up to 2022’s Growin’ Up. The difference in this recording’s close release to Growin’ Up in following the path of This One’s For You and What You See Is What You Get both being expanded into This One’s For You Too and What You See Ain’t Always What You Get, respectively, is that Gettin’ Old is sonically and sometimes vocally different for Luke Combs and that made the decision to make it a separate album a smart choice.
Take, for example “Back 40 Back.” This one, which laments the loss of the simpler times of the past and the creeping of suburban sprawl, finds Combs singing in an ear-pleasing tone which you’d not really have heard on those previous albums. This is what makes Gettin’ Old a moment of major musical growth for Luke Combs and suggests this is a superstar that, like Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert and Eric Church before him, is unafraid to challenge his listeners with a variety of songs and sounds and while there are still songs about beer and good times on this record, this one finds a man realizing he’s now firmly an adult with adult like concerns so the songs on the album reflect that. Even “You Found Yours,” a song which is about finding love, is different. Combs sings in different tones throughout it and the storytelling is tight as well.
Like I said, there still are songs with “Beer” in the title but when you hear “The Beer, the Band, and the Barstool,” you might think you have heard a long lost George Strait or Garth Brooks story song classic instead of a modern party song. The production on this record is delightfully country but it’s crisper than previous albums which also shows Combs maturing. Like many modern albums, Gettin’ Old is packed with plenty songs. Over the 18 tracks on this album you hear a man deeply in love after many years (the modern newgrass feel of “Still”), a rollicking storytelling rocker (“Fox in the Henhouse”), A story song which has a unique simile (“Tattoo on a Sunburn”), 90s country melodic throwbacks (“See Me Now” “Hannah Ford Road”), and much more.
Part of that “much more” are songs like “Joe,” a longtime concert favorite that is definitely an ode to hard working, blue collar types (“here’s to good days and better tomorrows, and a light at the end of the bottle”). It has an epic award season feel to it while the same can be said about “Five Leaf Clover.” But for as great as those two songs are, “Where The Wild Things Are” might be an even better song. There’s an epic, building storytelling and sing-a-long feel to it while the unexpected choice to cover modern classic “Fast Car” (leaving lyrical pronouns there too) was downright genius. The familiar melody and notes are there but Luke Combs keeps it familiar while taking moments where he makes it his own.
Preview tracks include the title track “Growin’ Up Is Gettin’ Old” and “Love You Anyway.” Both of these feel like obvious radio singles from this record (which was released without a true radio single) and the latter is officially the first radio single from the project while the former will likely find home on the radio at sometime too. As for the other tracks? They all — particularly “Fast Car” — will likely find a life outside of radio as Combs is one of the top three most-streamed country artists this decade and the music here, on his best work to date, suggests that Luke Combs will remain one of country music’s best and brightest artists. Why? Because he cuts songs like “My Song Will Never Die.” The Eric Church, Jonathan Singleton and Travis Meadows-penned song is, for my money, the most mature song on the record and it showcases the power of Luke Combs as a singular, rare talent able to write, record and choose classic songs for his class-leading albums. There aren’t’ many better and Luke Combs, for all his success and awards, smartly didn’t choose to leave well enough alone and has grown and moved into another gear on Gettin’ Old.