Brent Cobb’s ‘Southern Star’ Tells Stories of Small-Town Southern Joy
Brent Cobb's greatest strength as an artist has always been his ability to see the divine in the ordinary. On previous solo albums including Shine on Rainy Day and Providence Canyon, he spun magic out of ordinary places and the ordinary lives of the people who live there, always with humor, detail and — most importantly — love.
Now, in his new album Southern Star, Cobb points his pen southward, writing a 10-track love letter to the part of the country that produced him.
The singer's Southern cred has never been in question: His voice, lyrical choices and funky rhythms would point any listener to the assumption that he's from the South, even without Googling where he grew up (the small town of Ellaville, Ga.).
But at a time when country music's divides are more polarized and combative than ever, and the mention of "small towns" specifically leaves many listeners with associations of hostility and political divide, it feels especially soothing to see the South through Cobb's tender eyes. There are no fighting songs on this album, and no angry songs, either. Instead, Cobb basks in the simple, slow joys he finds in his hometown, and follows its comforting beacon, no matter where in the world he may find himself. Yes, Cobb is ready to try that in a small town — if by "that," you mean finding metaphysical harmony in the umbrage of a shade tree, or reveling in the joyful boredom of an unfruitful day of fishing.
"Livin' the Dream" is a quiet revolution set to a bluesy shuffle, Cobb delivering his patented light-hearted humor as he stays happy despite a world full of frustrations large and small: "Am I the only one who knows I'm livin' the dream?" he wonders. "Patina" is a love song penned by Cobb's wife Layne, unraveling a love story complicated by busy schedules down to its essentials and affirming that "all I know is we got right now."
Don't mistake Cobb's optimism for rose-colored glasses. Southern Star can be sorrowful, like it is in "Miss Ater," describing a heartbreak so relentless that it feels like "The Devil's got his fist on your house" and an outlook so bleak it seems like "God forgot to finish this town."
Neither is this album a whole-hearted embrace of the country music industry. In the single "When Country Came Back to Town," Cobb doesn't exactly disparage artists who left their own artistic preferences by the wayside in pursuit of a dollar and the Nashville dream — but he does celebrate the class of them who never sold out, rattling off a long list of examples.
"Right after that I moved to Nashville and most of the Broadway stars / Wanted to be Cody Canada, Ryan Bingham or Hayes Carll," he sings. "They seemed too cautious to commit / So they surrendered to the game / But nobody sang like Brandi Carlile or wrote like Nikki Lane..."
Indie stars aren't the only ones who get shout-outs in "When Country Came Back to Town": A couple of mainstream giants are among the artists who Cobbs sees as carrying the torch, among them Miranda Lambert and Luke Combs — the latter of whom was Cobb's tour boss earlier this year. Cobb was out on that tour in the months leading up to his new album's release, underscoring for the singer the importance of the South not as an everyday surrounding but as a beacon and a magnet, always eventually guiding him home.
That's the South that's represented in the title track of the album. "No matter how far I go / No matter how deep the dark / I know I can always count on my Southern star," he sings, broadening the album's final reach. Cobb's verses are full of cicadas, kudzu and other images specific to the South, but you don't need to be from Cobb's hometown to understand his message, as long as you've ever felt the comforting pull of home.