In a world of hip-thrusting Luke Bryans and muscular Tim McGraws, Luke Combs stands out. Baby-faced and beer-bellied, he looks like someone you’d expect to see in the crowd of a country music concert, not on the stage. But in a genre that claims to represent “real people,” that image is a good thing. Following a massively successful first album This One’s For You, Combs continues to deliver catchy, ’90s-country-sounding tunes on his sophomore effort, What You See Is What You Get. He proves himself to be just what today’s Nashville needs — a reality check.
A stomping anthemic love letter to “long neck ice-cold beer,” the album opener might give listeners the wrong first impression. But even “Beer Never Broke My Heart” breaks the “bro-country” mold for its lack of scantily clad women and use of real drums as opposed to snap tracks. Further dodging the frat-party subgenre of country, Combs quickly pivots to chronicling life’s smaller, sweeter moments.
“Refrigerator Door” is an ode to the kitchen appliance as a kind of time capsule. Combs lovingly details the “Couple magnets, recipes and Polaroids” against a simple chord progression. In “Even Though I’m Leavin’,” Combs follows a father and son from monster-in-my-closet worries to the father’s deathbed. “Even though I’m leavin’ / I ain’t goin’ nowhere,” the pair consistently reassure one another.
A Brooks & Dunn assist on “1, 2 Many” starts the party up again. An uptempo song about drinking “5-4-3-2-1, too many” in the style they perfected in the ’90s, Combs sounds like the perfect addition to make the legendary duo a trio. “C’mon that’s a country song right there,” Combs concludes in the outro, sounding like the harbinger for the next wave of neo-traditionalism in the genre.
In “New Every Day,” “Reasons” and “Every Little Bit Helps” Combs keeps finding new ways to rationalize a break-up. However, on a 17-track album, a listener doesn’t have time for a three-song lull stuck in the same thematic problem. All lyrically clever and instrumentally sound, they make sense on their own, but grouped together they can’t help but bleed into one another.
On the title track, “What You See Is What You Get,” Combs finally hits his stride. “With me ain’t no tricks up these sleeves / An acquired taste / a constant work in progress” Combs admits. At this point in the album, it’s easy to get what he means. Consistently backed by an electric guitar and steady drums, Combs doesn’t make room for any surprises. All of his songs exist in the same sonic landscape — a modern take on ’90s country. But if appreciating that takes an “acquired taste,” it’s safe to say contemporary country fans are hungry for it.
“All Over Again” is the only track that veers into the snap-track trap of his country radio peers. Still, the chorus can’t help but explode into real drums as Combs laments “falling over again” for the relationship to be “all over again” just as quickly as it started. Ultimately Combs can’t give in to pop-country, even when he tries.
What You See Is What You Get confirms that Combs knows his lane in country music and plans on sticking to it. By not taking any genre-bending risks, he takes the greatest risk of all — trusting country music to stand on its own. And it works. “So say I’m a middle of the road / not much to show / underachieving, average Joe,” Combs shrugs in “Does to Me.” He recognizes the value in being an everyman. That’s why listeners are lucky to be getting what they see when it comes to Luke Combs. A real person.