The opening track to “Gettin’” is “Growin’ Up And Gettin’ Old”. On it, he opines that “most of my happy hours are spent with you these days.”

An hour or so – and 17 songs – later, comes “The Part”. On that one, he reasons that life on the road isn’t all he thought it was. “The dark that comes to find you, every single time the lights go down,” he sings, “that’s the part they don’t tell you about….”

It’s the sort of thing you can only write about when you’ve hit the highest highs, when you’ve reached the top and its not what you wanted. The sort of thing you can only write when you are phenomenally successful.

Back when I was a kid, I was obsessed with Bon Jovi. There’s a video for “Wanted (Dead Or Alive)” and there’s a tour documentary for the New Jersey tour, that opened my eyes to the fact that the rock n roll dream wasn’t all you cracked it up to be. For Bon Jovi in 1990 (that’s when the documentary came out if I recall) read Luke Combs today.

Combs is as big as it gets. Arenas in the UK can’t get enough of him, and I am writing this precisely three days after this 18 track companion piece to “Growing Up” came out, and it can already count its Spotify streams in the hundreds of millions, but there’s always that reflection. That darkness if you will.

It’s what makes Luke Combs so incredibly good.

There’s a bit of everything here. There’s a straight ahead hard rocker called “Hannah Ford Road” on which the collars are as blue as the jeans. There’s a bombast, but its natural. And there’s the fact that Combs is born to sing songs in his truckers cap. “Back 40 Back” (it’s a farming term, I had to Google it, given that I am from the West Midlands in the UK not the mid-west of the US) opines the commercialisation of America, there’s a love song “You Found Yours” – but its more than that. It’s about finding a purpose, and there’s a song for the broken hearted. “The Beer, The Band, The Barstool” and its as well done as any there’s been.

The same applies to all of this. “Still” does country flavoured pop (and here’s your reminder that pop stands for popular, right?) and anyone who’s lost anyone close is going to think about them in “See Me Now” and the slow ones like “Joe” (there’s a kind of early Steve Earle thing going on here) are from the top draw. It’s tale of a man battling his demons is a real highlight.

And that’s another thing that sets Combs apart from the obvious competition. His themes are as universal as the Aldean’s and The Chuch’s of this world, but he’s got a fresh take.

A take like the honky-tonk ready “A Song Is Born” or the quest for something more long lasting like “My Song Will Never Die”, or the Springsteen-ish “Where The Wild Things Are”. A superb storytelling one. Tellingly the narrator goes back home. You suspect Combs knows the feeling.

The most popular – if Spotify streams are a guide – is “Love You Anyway”, so there’s a lot of old romantics around. The rest of us have the lovely “Take You Anyway” or the absolutely superb take on Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”. Ok, you can’t improve on perfection. You can put your stamp on it. That’s what Combs – and his magnificent voice-  do.

Scanning the tracklist for this, I’d imagined that 18 songs might have some average ones in the deep cuts. That’s not the case here. Instead, “Tattoo On A Sunburn” or the Celtic flavoured “5 Leaf Clover” (a single released from the album) keep the standard high – and if the latter is a little too happy for my tastes, then good luck to anyone who has a life this idyllic.

We haven’t really mentioned the band in this, but my goodness, whoever has played on these is supremely skilled. Listen to the slide on “Fox In The Henhouse” and you’re listening to something special.

Ultimately, whatever I write about “Gettin’ Old” isn’t going to make a blind bit of difference. It’s already one of the biggest country releases in 2023 and its been out not even 70 hours. That doesn’t mean Luke Combs doesn’t deserve every ounce of success though, because this is as good as modern country will be anywhere this year.

We can only hope he gets some comfort from that when the lights come down, because at 33 years of age, Luke Combs basically has the world at his feet.

Rating 9/10

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