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Luke Combs, “Fathers and Sons” – Album Review

Luke Combs

Last summer, Luke Combs was at the forefront of country music’s launch into the pop culture zeitgeist with his album Gettin’ Old. Combined with its predecessor from the year prior, Combs has been known for his records, which tell stories of literally growing up and traveling through different stages of life. Since those records, Luke has alluded to a stronger focus on songs about his journey as a father. As the natural consequence of a pair of records called Growin’ Up & Gettin’ Old, Fathers and Sons focuses on that unique, singular experience and everything it’s taught him.

One of the strongest lyrical points of intrigue about this album is that it tells stories from many different points of view. “Front Door Famous” helps us understand his conflicted feelings as a father with a successful music career and what it’s been like to have to leave his children during the touring season. It feels hyper-specific for Luke, which lets listeners in on his life experiences, but it’s also easy to put oneself in those same shoes. Ultimately, that’s the most significant difference between these tracks and tedious “mood songs” without the same lyrical specificity; by sharing his stories in real depth, Luke allows listeners to empathize with him in ways they just couldn’t otherwise.

On this record, Luke swaps out many of his carefree “good old boy” lifestyle tunes in favor of contemplative, mid-tempo balladry. In fact, there isn’t an electric guitar or full drum kit anywhere to be found on Fathers & Sons. In stripping away the might of his hard-hitting radio singles, we find a thoughtful, everyman with incredibly profound musings about how he wants his kids to see him. More often than not, fiddle, steel brushes, and a handful of stringed instruments accompany these reflections, making the most traditionally oriented Luke Combs project we’ve heard yet.

Even though Luke didn’t make this album to get a crowd jumping, “Little Country Boys” has an infectious, flowing cadence in the chorus and is one of the biggest earworms in the project. This song is all about the favorite pastimes of a kid raised in the country, like shooting a BB gun, driving a tractor, or digging in the dirt. Though it may feel a bit checklisty and narratively lacking, the cool thing about “Little Country Boys” is that while he’s charmed by his kids and their down-home hobbies, he’s approaching these topics from a place of wistful nostalgia as well. You can tell that he’s thinking about the “little country boy” he used to be and is proud to see his children following in his footsteps. In this way, many of the songs on Fathers & Sons translate as love letters to his childhood and grateful tributes to his new role as a dad.

Combs kept a consistent and tight-knit group on his production team, a philosophy that helped keep a sturdily cohesive sound and artistic identity over the years. Regular collaborators Chip Mathews and Jonathan Singleton produced the album with Luke, and the team created a serene sound that perfectly complements the songs’ grateful subject matter. Shortly after the North Carolina native announced this project, the fiery single “Ain’t No Love In Oklahoma” was released, packed with more hard-rock fury than we’d ever heard from a Luke Combs single. The way he took his foot off the gas on this album’s lead single, “The Man He Sees In Me,” was a lovely change of pace and the only right way to approach a concept record like this. The dobros, fiddles, and mandolins feel right at home throughout this project, and it’s very apparent that this is a songwriting-centric LP, and Luke wanted to approach these topics with limited bells and whistles.

For all of this album’s strengths, its greatest weakness is something that’s dogged Luke Combs for much of his career: by and large, these songs blend with few individual standouts. Though this is a shorter album than most of Luke’s full-length efforts at 12 songs long, a higher percentage of songs may fall through the cracks and miss out on the recognition they deserve on their own. That cohesive, acoustic production sets the right tone for the project, but it prevents these tracks from being recognized apart from one another. You get the impression that, as a producer, Luke gave more consideration to the album’s overall atmosphere than giving each track its own unique flair. Indeed, the release of “Ain’t No Love In Oklahoma” as a radio single makes much more sense now. Ultimately, Fathers & Sons wasn’t made for country radio, as its songs lack Luke’s usual radio-ready hooks and crafty instrumentals.

RELATED: Luke Combs, “Gettin’ Old” – Album Review

Coming off such an impactful 2023 with awards and hit singles aplenty, it came as a bit of a surprise that he would throw cold water on that commercial momentum with a pure passion project, but it makes so much sense why he did; with a bevy of poignant songs that speak to exactly where he’s at in life, a Father’s Day weekend release just felt perfect. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with safe-sounding records when the lyrics are as high quality as these. On this record, we’re given a new chance to appreciate Luke Combs as a wise songwriter putting pen to paper as he finds his place in the world. Though a Luke record without a high-octane, country-rock jam may throw off many fans, a change of pace was the right move for Luke. He’s proved all over again what makes him such a special artist for this moment in country music, with more to say than ever before.

8.4/10

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