There’s something about the south that inspires great art. William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Tennessee Williams, Mark Twain, Zora Neale Hurston and Flannery O’Connor have all looked toward the region to tell tales of struggle, injustice, loss, home and family. For artists from the south, there’s almost a gravitational pull to reflect in your work the region and the people that shaped you.
Brent Cobb is from the south. And on Providence Canyon (out May 11), his hometown of Ellaville, Ga. comes alive.
“I was never one of those kinds that hated being from a small town,” Cobb tells Wide Open Country. “I always loved being from where I’m from and I feel like you can escape around here. It’s probably like that anywhere. Being here I know all the side roads. It’s just freeing out here and it’s always felt that way even since I was a kid. I’ve just always felt like I was in a timeless little bubble — a little bubble that couldn’t be touched by the changing winds of time. It still feels that way.”
Cobb, who’s written songs recorded by Miranda Lambert, Lee Ann Womack, Kenny Chesney and Little Big Town, has created a masterful southern opus that’s often more country funk than southern rock. For Georgia natives it will be as familiar as your mom’s home cooking. For anyone who’s never trekked through Georgia, it’s a roadmap and a collection of short stories, snapshots of life and character sketches as vivid as any Tennessee Williams play.
There’s the lonely rural dweller looking back on missed opportunities in “High in the Country.”
“I’m down with the devils, I’m down with the saints, I’m layin’ on thick, fresh coats of paint,” Cobb sings in his Georgia drawl. “Every chance I had I threw away/ I spent every day high in the country…”
“King of Alabama” tells the true story of the life and untimely death of country singer-songwriter Wayne Mills, a friend and fellow road dog from the Deep South.
Cobb postures as a tough-talking Lynyrd Skynyrd antagonist on the impossibly cool “.30-06.”
The reflective “Come Home Soon” serves as the heart of the album, expressing the universal feeling of missing home and the sense of peace you feel there.
“Georgia’s where I knew I’d always live and die,” Cobb sings. “It’s been so long since I felt at home I’d forgotten what it feels like to lonely anywhere.”
Even the album’s title (and title track) comes from a very real place: Providence Canyon is southwest Georgia’s own “Little Grand Canyon.”
Cobb’s southern-born lyricism seems as natural as breathing. And with good reason. He comes from a long line of musically-inclined folks.
“Music as a career path was always considered as practical a trade as going to school for heating and air,” Cobb says. “It was always considered a trade in my family.”
Cobb grew up watching his singer-songwriter dad open for George Jones and Doug Stone. These days, Brent’s famous cousin, producer Dave Cobb, is making waves in the country and Americana world, helming projects by Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson. Dave Cobb took the reigns on Providence Canyon, as well as Brent Cobb’s 2016 album Shine on Rainy Day.
Brent Cobb says even the though they didn’t grow up together, the cousins felt an instant kinship in the studio.
“He produces –real spontaneous– the way that I write. So it’s not just growing up around it,” he says. “Any Cobb that you meet, you can ask them right when you meet them. If they say their name is Cobb, you can say ‘Well, what instrument do you play?’
When the cousins connected later in life, Dave Cobb was already a hotshot producer in L.A. who just happened to be behind one of Brent’s favorite albums: Shooter Jennings’ debut record Put the O Back in Country.
“I had given him this little acoustic demo I had. He did not want to listen to it, according to his wife. He was pretty reluctant to hear it and she talked him into it,” Cobb says. “A couple days later he and Shooter (Jennings) called me and they sent me out to L.A. and invited me to come out and make a record. It changed my whole life path forever.”
The Cobbs’ paths collided once again when Dave Cobb was putting together his 2016 compilation album Southern Family, which featured Brent.
“That turned into us doing Shine On Rainy Day,” Cobb says. “And in the mean time, Dave has become a superstar.”
Cobb captures the rhythm of southern storytelling with the boastful “Sucker for a Good Time” and swampy “Mornin’s Gonna Come.” Both reflect the kind of slick talker you might encounter in a Georgia dive bar.
Part of that rhythm comes from Cobb’s longtime appreciation for country-funk. He cites Georgia born singer-songwriter Larry Jon Wilson and other Heartworn Highways staples as major influences.
“There were a lot of artists like Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark — back in those days they would record these real songwriter-y, folky songs but they’d have this backbeat on them that made you listen. They’d kinda make you dance a little bit even though they’re telling this deep story.”
When asked what it is about his home state that inspires him, Cobb answers “everything,” adding that he feels a drive to make the highways and byways of rural Georgia come alive in the same way his favorite songwriters and authors have done for him.
“I’m also very aware that these songs are written personally, but I try to intentionally write them in a way that would be interesting to a listener who’s not necessarily from here,” Cobb says. “I love listening to Willie Nelson sing about Texas. My favorite book growing up was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I’d never seen the mighty Mississippi but the way that Mark Twain would write it made me want to go hang out with Tom and Huck. I always wanted to do that with my music as well.”
With Providence Canyon, Brent Cobb has created a place you’ll want to revisit again and again.
Brent Cobb is currently on tour. For a full list of tour dates, visit his official website.