by Maura Sutton
In the weeks leading up to the release of Luke Combs’s second album, What You See Is What You Get, news broke that his double-platinum debut, This One’s For You, had equalled the longevity record of a with 50 non-consecutive weeks on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. Talk about piling on the pressure for the launch of that traditionally difficult beast, the sophomore album. However, as it turned out, the North Carolina native (and devoted Panthers fan), and newly minted CMA Male Vocalist of the Year, had nothing to worry about on that score. Sophomore album jinx? Pah! Luke Combs is having none of that, thanks very much! At the time of writing, What You See Is What You Get (has a title ever been more apt?) has already broken its fair share of sales and streaming records in just a few short weeks, and not just in the Country genre but right across the board, earning Luke his first ever Billboard Top 100 Number 1 album.
What You See Is What You Get reassembles the dream team from This One’s For You, comprising Luke and his producer, Canadian musician and producer Scott Moffatt, who first started working with Luke on his third independently financed EP after agreeing to be paid on a track-by-track basis, which was all the fledgling, cash-strapped independent artist could afford at the time.
Moffatt doesn’t just contribute his skills behind the desk, he’s also a multi-instrumentalist, credited with everything from banjo, glockenspiel, and guitar, to name but three of many.
The first five tracks of the album are the exact same five tracks from recent EP The Prequel, and all running in exactly the same order, with Beer Never Broke My Heart kicking off the whole barnstorming shebang, hitting the ground running full pelt and then some, with a little traditional banjo taster before the crunching power chords kick in, followed by Luke’s rich, warm vocals. Lyrically, the track is a typically relatable tale of all the things that broke the singer’s heart, “like diamond rings and football teams,” and the three things that didn’t, namely, “long-neck ice-cold beers,” and “bars, and this guitar.” I’m just surprised that he couldn’t find room for his beloved Crocs in there as well, but there’s plenty of time for that on the next album!
A perfect opener and statement of intent, “Beer…” boasts a massive chorus, meaty power chords, a rock guitar break halfway through, and an infectious head-nodder of a beat.
Second track Refrigerator Door is slightly slower and a little more reflective, but it still rocks hard in a countrified way, with some really nice guitar licks and Luke’s trademark twang cutting through the backing vocals. The lyrics highlight his much-touted ability to fashion a descriptive narrative loaded with symbolism from the seemingly ordinary and everyday, focusing on the meaning behind those simple items that the average person has on their fridge door, such as “magnets, recipes, and Polaroids,” and how such things present a unique snapshot of the life of a family lived throughout the years, getting more and more crowded as the years roll by.
Next up, current Billboard Country Airplay Number 1 track Even Though I’m Leaving is a fine example of the traditional theme of a country music story song with a poignant message, one where you might find yourself suddenly getting a little something in your eye, or suffering the mysterious rapid onset of unseasonal hay fever causing you to brush away a tear.
“Daddy” being there to comfort his child is a theme throughout the song, first comforting the scared child at bedtime, then reassuring the grown-up child who is nervous and on their way to serve in the military, and then, in the last verse, the dad leaving the child behind one last time, but once again reassuring them that they’re never really gone, and will always be there for them. Luke’s heartfelt delivery of the lyric really hits home hard when he sings “Even though I’m leavin’, I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
The pace picks right up again with Lovin’ On You, a mischief-making, toe-tapping, honky-tonking tale of a hard-drinking, hard-smoking, hard-golfing, hard-hunting, hard-working man (this guy has a lot of hobbies!) who also just happens to be feeling a little frisky and wants to tell the world about it! Loads of fun.
Moon Over Mexico is straight-up pure romance with some lush harmony vocals on the chorus as Luke croons wistfully about an idyllic evening under a Mexico moon, but we’re soon back to more rowdy times with beer-drinking buddy-fest 1, 2 Many, featuring Brooks & Dunn, the duo returning the favour after Luke featured on their own Brand New Man. It’s pretty much everything that you might have hoped for from such a stellar collaboration, complete with classic lines such as “By half past ten I’m half past tipsy,” and some equally memorable guitar licks really driving this one along.
Blue Collar Boys signals the start of the more reflective section of the collection, telling the tale of a group of friends who grew up as “river kids,” following in their fathers’ footsteps to become hard-working men who like to drink “cold keg beer” while they’re “fixin’ up trucks.”
Failed relationships seem to be a major theme for the next few tracks. New Every Day is a heartbreak song with a catchy chorus and yet more great guitar work, and it’s followed by another breakup track, Reasons, with the person left behind after the breakup still struggling to make sense of the reasons why it all went wrong.
Every Little Bit Helps continues the breakup theme, but from the perspective of someone trying to do everything they can to feel even just a tiny little bit better. The track finishes on a strong and defiant note with some energetic guitar work building to a barnstorming crescendo.
Dear Today is another change of pace, a thought-provoking track with an interesting lyrical twist that begins with raw live vocals from Luke, just him and his acoustic guitar, before the band eventually kicks in.
After that reflective interlude it’s anthem time again with the title track, which sees Luke roaring his way through a rambunctiously defiant, unabashed statement of intent from this “straight shootin’, beer drinkin’, rule breakin’, don’t think I won’t take a good thing too far.”
The album’s second guest artist, Eric Church, makes an appearance on the rabble-rousing, anthemic Does to Me. He sounds great on the track with his trademark razor-sharp vocals, and it really would have been nice to hear him featured a little more here, but Mr. Misunderstood certainly does sound right at home singing alongside Mr. Combs.
Angels Workin’ Overtime is more honky-tonk rock and roll, another very infectious guitar-driven song with a catchy chorus simply born to be played live.
Time for another breather with All Over Again, yet another breakup song, the twist here being that the couple keep getting back together again, only for the same issues to keep reappearing.
The last two songs, Nothing Like You and Better Together banish the heartache for good finishing on a joyfully romantic high, and two more possible hit singles in the making, I’m guessing.
And that’s it for Luke Combs’ sophomore effort! With 17 tracks in all, and nothing even remotely like a filler, the massive success of What You See is What You Get is not hard to understand. Just like all great country music, Luke Combs’ lyrics deal with universal truths and the trials and tribulations of life that are relatable to so many, with vocals and musicianship that are more than up to the challenge. C2C 2020 can’t come soon enough!