On paper, North Carolinian country star Luke Combs has little in common with early-2000s UK pop artist Craig David. But Combs’ recent single, “Doin’ This”, makes one thing clear—like David before him, Combs was born to do it.
“Doin’ This” revolves around the question, What would the six-time Country Music Award-winner be doing if he “weren’t doin’ this?” Combs sounds pessimistic at first. “I’d be driving my first car, an old warn-out Dodge,” he sings. “Trying to make rent with a dead-end job.”
But Luke Combs soon realises his lifeblood would be the same regardless of whether he’d made it big. “At the Grand Ole Opry or a show in some no-name town,” sings Combs, “I’d still be doin’ this if I wasn’t doin’ this.”
Of course, such inquiries are pure abstractions for the 32-year-old Combs. On the eve of his third album, Growin’ Up, Combs is a three-time Grammy nominee, a Grand Ole Opry member, and the only artist to have their first two studio albums spend 25 weeks or more at #1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart. Combs went past Taylor Swift in achieving the chart milestone.
The albums in question are Combs’ 2017 debut, This One’s For You, and his 2019 follow-up effort, What You See Is What You Get, each of which has enjoyed a phenomenal run of success in Australia. This One’s For You spent 200 weeks on the ARIA Top 50 Albums chart following its release in late 2017; What You See Is What You Get hasn’t strayed from the top 50 since its release in November 2019.
So, what explains Combs’ pronounced and enduring success? Combs presents himself as an everyman. The alternate life-path described in “Doin’ This” is a sample of Combs’ preferred thematic terroir. Dating back to his debut single, “Hurricane”, from 2015, Combs has pitched himself as an uncynical battler. He likes to have a few beers or whiskeys with friends and has a romantic nature. He evinces strength against adversity and relishes the good times when they come.
“Doin’ This” was followed by the single “Tomorrow Me”, which is a cardinal example of Combs’ neighbourly maturity. “Tomorrow Me” is a melancholy ballad and Combs’ lead vocals bear a viscosity akin to mid-career Eddie Vedder with a country twang.
In debating whether to rekindle an old flame, Combs reasons that the immediate pleasure won’t justify the subsequent hurt. “Maybe we should let yesterday be,” he sings, backed by slide guitar and banjo. “‘Cause I gotta live with tomorrow me.”
“Doin’ This” and “Tomorrow Me” appear on Growin’ Up, which is out now. Combs made Growin’ Up with producers Chip Matthews and Jonathan Singleton. He spent more time preparing the record than any of his previous releases. “I’ve been working on this album on and off for two and a half years now,” Combs said in a statement. “It was sort of a crazy process through what COVID brought and what that meant for our touring life last year.”
The delayed release date hasn’t dampened Combs’ belief in the material on Growin’ Up. “I think that the fans are going to love these songs,” he said. “I’m just excited to get them out and see what they think.”
It won’t be easy for Combs to match the sustained commercial success of What You See Is What You Get and the deluxe reissue, 2020’s What You See Ain’t Always What You Get. Combs’ second album gave rise to a record-breaking seven number one singles on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. The seventh of these, “Cold As You,” was Combs’ twelfth-consecutive Country Airplay number one.
But for the 32-year-old country musician dressed in a PFG fishing shirt and a trucker cap, commercial success has always seemed like a by-product of his relatable song-craft, rather than his artistic raison d’être. The new album’s title is a truer indication of what fuels Combs’ creativity. And besides, regardless of what happens, Combs will “still be doin’ this.”