Five years ago, when beer-drinking, truck-driving-in-the-country country songs were en vogue, Luke Combs' full-length debut would have fit right in. In 2017, when pop music rules the country market and male singers are more likely to wear a stylish jacket instead of a flannel shirt, Combs is positively refreshing.
"Hurricane," the first single and first top five hit of Combs' career, sounds like a typical Jason Aldean ballad at the onset, but then builds into something more substantial as the story unfolds. That trend is found throughout. One would have thought that the avalanche of country party songs supplied by the likes of Aldean, Bryan, Shelton, etc. etc. would have bankrupted that particular style. Combs and his co-writers, though, have crafted 12 songs that are just a little higher quality than usual.
"Beer Can" and "Honky Tonk Highway" don't break any new ground lyrically, but they're clever, catchy and performed well. Combs' full-throated vocals are perfectly suited to the rowdier songs that dominate the album, but he does well on the occasional heartbreakers as well. "Memories Are Made Of" nicely combines youthful good times with regret that those days are gone, and "I Got Away with You" is a sweet love song.
Combs co-wrote all 12 songs, with 2 or sometimes 3 co-writers. Even with so many personalities working on a single album, all the songs flow together and establish Combs as one of the more traditional major-label artists in the genre. Only occasionally does the wordplay get a little too fine. "I Got Away with You" references Mona Lisa, Alcatraz, the Louvre and Buckingham Palace all within three lines, which is a mouthful. The opening track, "Out There," starts with the following lyric: "BFG's coming 'cross the creek, Z-71 headlights shining through the trees." It sets the scene if you're a car person, but it's a little baffling if you're not.
Country's biggest stars are currently experimenting with electronic beats, hip-hop and more. Combs doesn't come across as someone who's eager to jump into EDM or duet with The Chainsmokers anytime soon. Hopefully, radio will reserve space for country singers who just want to sing country.