If you listen to Brent Cobb’s music in a vacuum, it’s easy to draw a portrait of an easy-going country-folk troubadour who makes a living on the edges of Nashville’s Music Row. There’s an unhurried grace and simplicity to Cobb’s songs, both the ones on his two solo albums and the ones that have ended up on albums by the likes of Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, Kenny Chesney and others. Even though his debut album, 2016’s Shine on Rainy Day, scored a Grammy nomination and a bit of notoriety, he’s still more in the Guy Clark/Chris Knight realm of country music.
But Brent, cousin to famed Americana producer Dave Cobb, just spent much of the last two years opening for country superstar Chris Stapleton, including the singer’s appearance last fall at Columbia’s Colonial Life Arena.
“I think we skipped some steps a little bit with the Stapletons,” Cobb admits now. “They were very kind and have been so generous to us.”
Playing the shows, Cobb followed the headliner’s lead in balancing his singer-songwriter essence with a bit of Southern rock histrionics that maintained a rock club feel while still filling up the giant space. He says his set doesn’t change much whether he’s playing to a couple hundred people or multiple thousands, but he can feel the impact of his stint in the big leagues.
“We do have a lot of people show up and mention ‘I saw you when you came through with Chris Stapleton,’ so it’s really been awesome,” Cobb says. “The first two tours of this year, we’ve doubled what we were doing before.”
For the most part, Cobb is happy staying in his current wheelhouse rather than chasing a particular sound and style. While his follow-up to Rainy Day, 2018’s Providence Canyon, saw him try on some country-funk grooves and let the electric guitars ring a bit louder, his songwriting remains remarkably consistent, full of small-town paeans and blue-collar realism that he made his name on.
Cobb credits the natural expansion of his sound more to the impact of his lead guitarist Mike Harris’ love of Lynyrd Skynyrd (“and Ronnie Van Zant is probably my favorite songwriter”) than a change in approach.
“I think if you took a lot of the electric guitar out of Providence Canyon and just softened the drums, it’s really a similar album as far as the songwriting goes,” Cobb contends. “All of my songs come from the same place, and then we’ll get into the studio and create an atmosphere around those songs. If the production melts away, they are all very similar.”
Even if there’s more to be gained from tinkering with his sound or style, Cobb prefers to take the most natural and organic route, whether writing for himself or others.
“Even the stuff that I’ve had recorded by bigger artists than myself, they are still songs I would put on my own album,” he notes. “I’ve never had to separate the two. I’ve never had to think of it like, ‘OK, I’m here on Music Row today, right? Let’s try to get a cut.’”
Cobb thinks it’s partly seeing his cousin’s success producing more rugged country records by Shooter Jennings and Jamey Johnson in Los Angeles when he was first starting out his career and, now, the success of Stapleton, that encourages him to stick to his guns.
“If I hadn’t gone to L.A. first at 18 and gone right to Nashville, started trying to get out there, I wouldn’t have known that there was a difference,” he muses. “I would have thought that, ‘Well, this is just the kind of stuff you have to write or you won’t be successful.’ And I would have probably went down that rabbit hole out of ignorance.”
“Maybe I would be more successful monetarily if I went down that other road,” Cobb concludes, “but this is much more soul-fulfilling.“
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