Luke Combs has teamed up with bluegrass star Billy Strings for the new song “The Great Divide.” Surprise-released Sunday night, it addresses the bitter cultural divide of the present-day United States and is the first new studio music Combs has released since the deluxe edition of his second album, What You See Is What You Get. In October, Strings posted a photo of a writing session with Combs in Florida, pointing to a collaboration to come. “The Great Divide” was written by Combs, Strings, and Wyatt Durrette.
The all-acoustic tune keeps things lean, with a guitar strumming a mournful set of minor chords as Combs begins his verses. “Striking matches on the TV/Setting fires on our phones,” he sings, outlining in broad terms the enmity that has taken hold in American life. As traditional bluegrass instrumentation of banjo and mandolin join the mix, Combs strikes an optimistic, if cautionary, note.
“We’re all so far, so far apart now/It’s as deep as it is wide/We’re about to fall apart now if we can’t reach the other side/We gotta find a way across the great divide,” he and Strings sing in the chorus. It’s less of a vague platitude lifting up both sides than an urgent plea for people of different belief systems to find a way to communicate and not resort to tribal behavior — lest we hasten our destruction.
In a statement, Combs says he’s working on a bluegrass album, a longtime goal for the musician. “This is a song that was supposed to be a part of that project. It’s not a lead single or a lead-in to that project yet, because that is not done. But it felt like the right time to put this song out,” he says. “When we wrote it, there were a lot of crazy things going on in the world. There’s still a lot of crazy things going on in the world. And I just felt like I had some stuff to say. It’s not meant to be political. It’s not meant to try and tell you what to think or tell you how to believe. That’s not my job. It’s just a guy kinda saying the way he was feeling when he wrote it.”
“This song is our interpretation of the conflicts and tension we had been witnessing/ experiencing around the time we wrote it,” Strings says. “We wanted to shine a little light on the situation and offer a bit of hope during what has been a tough time for many.”
Recorded earlier this month in Nashville, “The Great Divide” includes Charlie Worsham on acoustic guitar, mandolin, and banjo, Eric Darken on percussion, and Royal Masat, the bassist in Strings’ band.
In November, Combs took home his second CMA Male Vocalist of the Year honor, thanks in part to blockbuster sales of his albums This One’s for You and What You See Is What You Get and their deluxe editions. Strings, meanwhile, released his latest album Home in 2019 and won Guitar Player of the Year and New Artist of the Year at the 2019 International Bluegrass Music Awards.