Due out June 2, the North Carolinian's album blends heartland rock, honky-tonk twirlers, and plenty of guitar fireworks

By Madison Vain
March 27, 2017 at 11:00 AM EDT
Credit: Matthew Berinato

Luke Combs made waves in early 2017 when his debut single, the rueful rocker “Hurricane,” cracked the Billboard Country Airplay Chart’s Top 40. The dial has only turned up since then: that song currently sits at No. 14 on the leaderboard, Combs has joined Brantley Gilbert’s massive 2017 tour, and the 27-year-old has booked major festival appearances, including Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn. and Tortuga in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Now, EW can exclusively announce that the singer will release This One’s For You, his debut collection, on June 2 via Columbia Nashville.

Like many overnight sensations, Combs has actually been doing music for a while. The North Carolina native picked up guitar in college while attending Appalachian State University after one his freshman hallmates gifted him Eric Church’s 2009 album Carolina. Combs hadn’t listened to country music in years but the Chief brought him back — and has continued to shape the multifaceted breakout’s approach to his craft.

Like Church, Combs got his start playing North Carolina’s bar and restaurant scene — and began writing his own songs out of necessity to fill his setlists, which often topped three hours. “I would go in and sing a cover of a song that everybody knew — and sing it as good as I possibly could — to get their attention,” he says. “And right after, I would play an original.”

Combs was soon playing three or four nights per week and self-released his debut EP, The Way She Rides, which sold 10,000 copies in its first week. That was when Combs realized he had “reached the pinnacle of what kind of success I could have in North Carolina”; though only 21 credits shy of earning his degree, he dropped out of school, packed his bags, and headed for Music City.

Unlike many artists, Combs didn’t initially fill his days in Nashville working odd jobs to pay rent, instead living off the revenue from The Way She Rides and his second self-released EP. But a year later, his funds were running dry. Nearing the end of recording for his third EP, budgetary constraints forced Combs to pick just one song to master.

He tapped “Hurricane” — and what a choice it was. The tune exploded, selling 14,000 copies in its first week on iTunes — enough so he could finish his EP — and taking off with live crowds immediately. No one was more surprised than Combs. “I put that one out because that was my job,” he says, not because “Hurricane” seemed any more special that the rest. “That was how I paid my bills!”

Music City titans took notice and while Combs was recording his debut LP he signed a deal with Columbia Nashville. They let him keep the album he’d already written and cut, which Combs says boosted his confidence. “That was a huge thing for me,” he says. “We had this record done before I ever met them! They just hopped on as an awesome partner.”

You, produced by Scott Moffatt of Canadian boy band The Moffatts,is a raucous exploration of modern country. It blends nostalgic heartland rock (“Memories Are Made Of”), barnstorming party tunes (“Beer Can”), bleeding-heart guitar tributes (“One Number Away”), and honky-tonk twirlers (“Honky Tonk Highway”). Tying the styles together is Combs’ husky, empathetic baritone.

Impressively, the singer has writing credits on all the album’s tracks — another thing he copped from Church. “I felt such a connection to him when I was just a fan,” he says, remembering his first trips through Carolina. “I felt like, ‘Man, this guy, he’s saying this to me!’ I felt like if that happened to me, then I know that could happen for someone else, when they’re listening to my music.”

This One’s For You drops June 2 via Columbia Nashville — see its album artwork below. Head over to Combs’ website for a complete itinerary of his upcoming tour dates, including his concerts with Brantley Gilbert.

Luke Combs
Credit: Sony