Chris Stapleton. Sturgill Simpson. Jason Isbell. Lori McKenna. Shooter Jennings. The list goes on. The common thread throughout some of their greatest albums has been the sonic touches of record producer Dave Cobb. At the moment, no one is as revered quite like the humble Cobb. For Cobb, he contributes most of the success of albums like Traveller, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Southeastern and The Bird & the Rifle to working with once in a generation talents.
Still, there’s a reason why those albums pop. Cobb’s touches often focus on an artist’s keen vocals. There’s a charge in the air when they approach the microphone and sing. He puts them in places where they’re able to soar. Sonically, there’s a textured grit that’s iconic, lively and robust. You can hear it throughout Cobb’s catalog of work — which is approaching three-digit territory by the last count.
Undoubtedly, his work as a producer speaks for itself. A great listening experience can be timeless. They can be enjoyable no matter the circumstance. But what helps set Cobb’s finest work apart from most is how incredibly relevant and timely they all seem to be. He’s been able to help throw the right combination of punches at the most opportune times. Albums with Stapleton, Simpson, Isbell, McKenna and company all arrive when we need them most. They’re groundbreaking, innovative and revolutionary. In short, they’re vital to country music’s well-being.
But as mentioned, Cobb’s catalog of producing credits is nearing, if not already passed, 100. The sheer magnitude can be overwhelming. By nature, great albums slip through the cracks. They become hidden gems. What’s remarkable is albums by the likes of Amanda Shires (My Piece of Land), Jamey Johnson (The Guitar Song, That Lonesome Song), Lake Street Dive (Side Pony), Shooter Jennings (pick an album) and a host of others are all incredible statements by the artist and Cobb.
Here are 15 Cobb-produced albums you may have missed.
All I Ever See In You Is Me, Jillette Johnson
All I Ever See In You Is Me was released just this past summer. Johnson’s compositions certainly aren’t full-blown country, but there are still subtle hints of twang that pop up at times. Rather Johnson and Cobb create grand moments swept with Fleetwood Macesque baroque pop. There’s a balance they maintain that sways from rich pieces that effortlessly glide and stripped down songs that highlight Johnson’s strong songwriting chops. She often reminds you of a young Stevie Nicks or velvet-voiced Carole King.
Recommended Listening: “Love Is Blind,” a sultry piano-driven song that soars off into the night.
Ain’t Who I Was, Bonnie Bishop
Ain’t Who I Was’s greatest strength is found in Bonnie Bishop‘s bluesy and soulful vocals and groove. Cobb and company accent them with Muscle Shoals organ touches and slow-burning backbeats. But the focus is always directly on Bishop’s rich vocal inflections. At times, she ventures into Bonnie Raitt territory with confident statements while other times, she flaunts an Al Green worthy strut that’s just as demanding.
Recommended Listening: “Mercy,” a smooth plea that warbles just right.
Things That Can’t Be Undone, Corb Lund
Like the majority of his career, Corb Lund‘s Things That Can’t Be Undone is a wealth of frontier songs, cowboy ballads and tongue-in-cheek talking blues tunes. Lund’s lyricism is chalk full of clever lines and entertaining plot lines. Still, he finds a way to weave them in heartbreaking stories that highlight his rural Canadian roots. With Cobb, they add a neo-traditional country filter that accents Lund’s Robert Earl Keen-esque storytellers.
Recommended Listening: “Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues,” a humorous honky-tonker co-written with Evan Felker of Turnpike Troubadours.
The Things That We Are Made Of, Mary Chapin Carpenter
Throughout Mary Chapin Carpenter‘s rise in the ’90s, she still pulled back to her earthy folk roots. Things That We Are Made Of is perhaps her best work since Grammy-winning albums of the mid-’90s. There’s a crisp, exhilarating and cool breeze that blows throughout the album. Her voice is as strong as ever over Cobb’s shadowy dreamscapes. Lyrically, Carpenter delivers lines as if she’s narrating a series of black and white photographs. It’s as beautiful as Patty Griffin‘s 1000 Kisses and as open as Bruce Springsteen‘s Nebraska.
Recommended Listening: “Hand on My Back,” a beautiful and haunting folk ballad.
Onward, Christian Lopez
Christian Lopez‘ full-length debut, Onward, is full of life and bright-eyed. On the album, Cobb and the West Virginia native blend sharp and clever pop breaks with sensible rootsy touches. Lopez’ refined vocals could easily crossover into mainstream territory if he so wished. It’s rich, smooth and just plain enjoyable as he sings over mandolin, fiddle and banjo-tinged folk ballads and love songs.
Recommended Listening: “Will I See You Again,” an earworm-worthy singalong that’s earthy and refreshing.
Little Neon Limelight, Houndmouth
2015 found Houndmouth releasing their sophomore album Little Neon Limelight. They captured moments in which they lingered just long enough for laidback jams without wearing out their welcome. Their four-part (now three-part) harmonies and pop sensibilities add a toe-tapping atmosphere. It’s a brand of alt-country that feels warm and welcoming like a Dawes or a more refined Felice Brothers, specifically when lead vocalist Matt Myers presses down on the gas pedal.
Recommended Listening: “Sedona,” a satisfying opener that captures them at their best.
honeyhoney’s 3 is one of Cobb’s best efforts. It’s a hodgepodge of folk, blues, country and rock. They blend and collide the various inspirations to create a vivid and stunning soundscape. Suzanne Santo’s warm vocals echo as if they could have been recorded down the hall. There’s a textured homely element to them that feels homely and comfortably lived in.
Recommended Listening: “Yours To Bear,” an addictive love song with pleasant pedal steel and fiddle waltzing in the background.
Create Your Own Mythology, Kristin Diable
Kristin Diable’s third album, Create Your Own Mythology, is much like Bishop’s sultry and southern soul Ain’t Who I Was. Still, a light and feathery gloss makes Diable’s rootsy songs slightly more refined and a touch less earthy. Still, there’s a pristine rhythm that carries through Create Your Own Mythology that replenishes and rewards. It’s confident, warm and gripping.
Recommended Listening: “Hold Steady,” a slowing crawling flow filled with bright strings that counterbalance Diable’s smokey vocals.
Early Morning Shakes, Whiskey Myers
The majority of Whiskey Myers sound is built on templates borrowed from Lynyrd Skynyrd and early Cross Canadian Ragweed. There’s sharp bite to the band’s guitar-driven brand of Southern Rock. Lead vocalist Cody Cannon and company unabashedly wear these influences right on their rolled up sleeves. Early Morning Shakes finds the band right in the pocket. Twin guitars take turns attacking while Cannon leads you into the back forty for some deep-fried fun and party stories.
Recommended Listening: “Early Morning Shakes,” a hangover tale that howls and wails.
Tin Star, Lindi Ortega
In 2013, Cobb teamed up with Lindi Ortega for Tin Star. It’d be the first of two collaborations between the two. Together, they created a beautiful soundscape that soared toward the heavens with elegant and rushing movements. Through it all, Ortega’s velvety vocals shine brightest with hypnotizing runs and delicate touches. At times, they punch it into high gear with Spaghetti Western-tinged accents that drive home Ortega’s rockabilly roots.
Recommended Listening: “Tin Star,” where Ortega laments about struggling musicians searching for the way.
Brent Cobb EP, Brent Cobb
Before he broke through with the excellent Shine On Rainy Day, Brent Cobb recorded 2012’s self-titled EP (and 2006’s No Place Left to Leave). Despite being just five songs long, Brent Cobb still delivers. It certainly hints at Cobb’s knack for writing heartfelt ballads that capture a slice of down home living. It’s not quite as refined or focused as Shine On Rainy Day, but it’s certainly worthy of a listening.
Recommended Listening: “Love On Me,” a country crooning love song that charms.
Walk of Shame, Nikki Lane
Before All or Nothin’ and Highway Queen, Nikki Lane delivered Walk of Shame in 2011. At its best, it blended traditional country storytelling with old-school rock & roll attitude. Lane’s vocals cut like a knife throughout her debut. It was self-assured, bold and brimming with confidence. Written after a breakup, Lane’s pen delivered fiery, sharp-witted statements and unabashed independence. It was certainly a hint of what was following.
Recommended Listening: “I’m Coming Home to You,” a forceful singalong narrating Lane finding romance.
The Secret Sisters, The Secret Sisters
The Secret Sisters debut album is a rich homage to classic country without ever feeling like a novelty. It’s an incredible example of Cobb building around pristine vocals of Laura and Lydia Rogers. Familiar and timeless guitar cuts in when needed, but for the most part, everything revolves around the elegant and natural two-part harmonies by the Rogers Sisters. Like Hank Williams, George Jones and Patsy Cline before them, they’re more than capable of effortlessly tugging at your heartstrings in the most heavenly of ways.
Recommended Listening: “Waste The Day,” an original that feels right at home on the traditional jukebox in your favorite honky-tonk.
Waylon Forever, Waylon Jennings
While Cobb and Waylon Jennings never sat in the same recording studio for Waylon Forever, he did help Shooter Jennings and company blow off the dust from some ’90s sessions to create the stark and dark Waylon Forever. The elder Jennings’ voice isn’t completely shot, but they’re certainly aren’t at their peak powers. Still, he’s as demanding as ever. Most of the songs are recuts of classic Jennings staples, but like Johnny Cash‘s American Recordings, there’s a graceful composure added with their aging voices.
Recommended Listening: “Outlaw Shit,” a recut of “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand” that delivers emotional gut punches.
Leroy Powell, Leroy Powell
Before Stapleton and Simpson, there was Leroy Powell. For most of his career, Powell’s been one of Cobb’s secret go-to weapons. Armed with a steady set of pipes and a sharp and wise guitar, Powell has contributed to many of Cobb’s efforts over the years, namely Shooter Jennings. But as great a sideman Powell is, his own country compositions are just as significant. Back in 2007, Cobb and Powell recorded Leroy Powell, a powerful collection of ’70s country cuts that captured heartbreak and heartache with the best of them.
Recommended Listening: “How Can You Be Loving Me (When You Wake Up Next To Him),” a wailing tears-in-your-beer lament.