Brent Cobb (photo by Jace Kartye)

Brent Cobb’s ‘Southern Star’ Shines on Macon

Brent Cobb conjures more than crafts his songs, blending cascades of pine needle-covered front porch wisdom and after-midnight wit with a preternatural cadence that’s evolved impressively since his Nashville landing in 2008. Initially settling at the writer’s table rather than the performer’s stage, Brent’s easily relatable but deceptively sophisticated lyrics quickly found placement among Music City’s pantheon (his songs have been recorded by the Oak Ridge Boys, Luke Bryan, and Miranda Lambert among many others) while he’s shared the pen with one of the finest core of songwriters to ever uphold Music Row.

In 2016, Cobb released the profoundly warm and charming Shine On Rainy Day. Produced by his GRAMMY-collecting cousin Dave, the album earned its own nomination from the Recording Academy, cementing Brent’s position among Nashville’s songwriting elite. But the success and recognition was a double-edged blade. Instead of capitalizing on his solo potential, Brent’s in-demand ability as a writer and collaborator kept him busy– but it also sidelined him while the independent country music scene caught fire.

On his new album Southern Star, Brent chronicles that period, name-checking friends and seminal moments with reverence on “When Country Came Back To Town”.

Splashed with the country funk of 2018’s Providence Canyon as well as the wry maturity of the pandemic-released Keep ‘Em On They Toes, Southern Star follows close on the gospel heels of Cobb’s spiritually savvy And Now Let’s Turn To Page… It’s an ode to not only the people and places he grew up around but the sounds that continue to inspire him. To fully realize the project, Brent set up shop in Macon, Georgia with a lean group of local musicians at the famed Capricorn Sound Studios, the epicenter for Southern Rock in the 1970s that produced iconic records from the Allman Brothers Band, Wet Willie, Charlie Daniels, the Marshall Tucker Band, and more.

Cobb’s last visit to Capricorn Studios was in 2020 at the helm of fellow songwriter Adam Hood’s excellent Bad Days Better. Marking his first full-length adventure as a producer, Brent sweated every last detail to marvelous results, but taking the reins for his own project, Cobb admits his confidence and familiarity with the legendary studio translated less into technical savvy and more into natural instinct.

“It was much more laid back and I was more comfortable in not knowin’ what I was doin’,” laughs Cobb. “It was okay to be like, ‘I don’t know why that makes sense– but it just does! It’s just right!’”

Humbled by Capricorn’s legacy but unbound it, Cobb & Company (guitarist Charlie Gilbert, bassist Miles Landrum, keyboardist Jimmy Matt Rowland, drummer Leroy Wilson, and vocalist Shana Boswell) stretch out on numbers like the Sea Level-ish “Livin’ The Dream”, “‘On’t Know When” (co-written with Louisiana native Chris Canterbury and fellow Georgian Ben Chapman), and the diabolically funky “Devil Ain’t Done”. But the majority of Southern Star deals with notions of family, home, and the healing properties of both, offering up intimate details in Polaroid-perfect snapshots on the autobiographical “Kick The Can”, “Miss Ater” (a contender for one of Cobb’s all-time best narratives), and a tune written with his sister Alecia entitled “Shade Tree”.

On the nostalgic “It’s A Start”, Brent passes the pen back and forth with his father Patrick Cobb as well as his potentially favorite songwriting partner, his wife Layne, who also lends the album a classic study on love songs with the Waylon & Jessi-esque “Patina”.

“Home is my muse. Always,” says Cobb. “I know that’s not exclusive to me. You can listen to James Brown’s version of [“Georgia On My Mind”], Otis Redding… Little Richard, at some point, would always bring it back home, so it’s a muse for a lot o’ people. It’s where we’re from, and it’s all the same. I’ll get the question sometimes, ‘What do you do in your downtime when you’re not playin’, not writin’?’ The answer is always, ‘Well, it’s funny– I could go out for two months on tour, playin’ nonstop, and the first thing I do when I get home and get the kids to bed is I sit down on the chair and pull out a guitar and strum!’ It’s just who you are. It’s who I am.”

AI- Years ago, you and I talked about your songwriting process and the difference that having a bus made ’cause you could write on the road, and at the time, I believe you preferred to write around 3am in the morning! But before you went into the studio in Macon [to make Southern Star], you had posted at least one shot on social media of you writin’ on a screened-in porch somewhere. Tell me what that looks like now– writing at home versus at the table in Nashville or on the bus between towns.

I enjoy co-writin’ as much as I enjoy solo writin’. the difference for me now, I guess, would be that in Nashville, [when] I was still livin’ there, you’d go in sorta like a 9 to 5 job and you don’t know who you’re co-writin’ with and that’s just sorta the name o’ the game. You go in and you co-write with somebody at a different publishing company. Because I’m not there and I can’t do that as often… My wife is co-writer on a few of these songs on [outhern Star], she’s a co-writer on a song on Keep ‘Em On They Toes, so nowadays, that’s how we hang out! Once we get the kids down and everything’s settled– there’s no other time! There’s a lot o’ grass gotta be mowed and there’s stuff to take care of around the house, and so when we do finally get time just hang out, usually, I’m needin’ to write a song– and do write a song! I’ll pick up a guitar we’ll sit on the porch, and that’s how we spend our evenin’s!

She wrote “Patina” a hundred percent, and then we co-wrote, along with my dad, “It’s A Start”. She also was a co-writer, along with my sister, on “Shade Tree”.

Well, since you brought up “Shade Tree”… There’s an amazing forlorn quality to that song. That slightly dissonant harmonica kinda put me in the mood o’ Once Upon A Time In The West! It’s definitely the strangest song on the record, but it’s also one of the most compelling.

I appreciate that! My sister and I had been tryin’ to write that song. We sorta had a piece of it and the idea for about a year or more. In the last couple weeks leadin’ up to this album– actually, I think it was the “week of” goin’ into the studio– I really wanted me and her to have a song on there together. I was over at her house lettin’ my nephew– her son– and my son run around in the woods together… That was her screen porch that we were sittin’ on in that picture! That was the day that we finished that song!

We had the old pecan tree in my grandma’s backyard, where everybody after Sunday dinner, we’d all go out there and gather ’round and visit for a little while. There’s just somethin’ soothin’ about a shade tree! And somethin’ southern, traditionally! It’s sort of my “Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay”, where the world is goin’ on– good or bad– around me, and you know what? If nothin’ else, I’m gonna be sittin’ right here under this shade tree!

You chose to have as many local musicians on Southern Star, I think as was possible. I know Leroy Wilson is on the drum kit and Shana Boswell, I believe, sings on the title track. Who else did you utilize? Who’s playin’ lead guitar?

That is Charlie Gilbert on electric lead, and then Miles Landrum on bass. [Miles is] out of Atlanta. I put ’em all together with Rob Evans. Rob’s gettin’ a producer credit on this album, and so is Oran Thorton. Rob is a big part. The whole idea for me was to shine the light of a “Southern Star” on Macon’s or Georgia’s own Southern stars! There’s some awesome players! A lot o’ people go into record at Capricorn because they think it’ll be cool, and they’ll bring their own musicians and they’ll bring their own producer and they’ll bring their own engineer and all those things– but you don’t need any o’ that! All you need are the songs! You just show up with your songs and Rob’s gonna handle it!

I just want people to know that. I want people to know that, yeah, Capricorn is historically amazing– all the stuff that’s been recorded there is really supernatural almost– and it’s also super natural— [but] I want people to know that Macon isn’t just a cool thing of the past, it’s still happenin’ right now!

Brent Cobb with Leroy Wilson (drums) and Miles Landrum (bass). Photo courtesy Mercer University

That’s one of my biggest gripes right now about the perception of Macon– because there is so much goin’ on and there are so many great players. I think that the key to Macon living up to its potential is a community of players that artists like yourself want to include.

Totally! And isn’t it funny? ‘Cause it’s the big talk that everybody likes to pretend that they support, but then when it comes down to it, they’re gonna do somethin’ different! You don’t have to do that in Macon!

I haven’t heard everything that’s come out of Capricorn since they reopened the doors, but I’m not blowin’ smoke when I tell you that [Adam Hood’s] Bad Days Better and Southern Star are two of the very best things that I’ve heard. I mean that from the production standpoint, soundwise, and then song quality as well. Projects like that are going a long way in shining that spotlight on what is possible.

Isn’t that so important! Even Charlie– he’s an amazing player, they all are– but you can tell that they probably get a lot o’ people who go through there that wanna make an album that sounds like Allman Brothers– which is awesome, that’s great! I wanna make an album that sounds like me but that was recorded in Macon!

After me and the band tracked, Charlie came in and overdubbed some stuff, and then he also cut on a few of the other songs live with us as well. But when he first came in, just lookin’ for tones… I don’t ever like to step in front of a musician and dictate what they do before they’re able to have a natural response. Whatever their instinct is naturally, I want that to happen first, of course. At first, you could tell that perhaps, just because he’s used to maybe what other stuff has come through in the last few years, he put on that “Duane Allman” sound, which is awesome, but I did have to be like, “Aw, man, I’m not tryin’ to make an Allman Brothers album,” and he’s like, “Oh, okay, alright, well…” Man, he just pulled all the tricks out of his deep bag of guitar tricks! He’s so good, so talented!

I was really pleased to see that “When Country Came Back To Town” is on this album. I’d seen the video of when it was posted, originally, of you and Aaron Raitiere doin’ the song swap, so I’d wondered if and when that was ever gonna get a studio cut. I love the guitar tones on the album, and I suppose that Capricorn was the apt spot for that song. I think spiritually, it’s reminiscent o’ Charlie Daniels’ “The South’s Gonna Do It Again”, and that line, “It’s hard to tell when you’re in it, sometimes a moment’s too profound…” But I feel like you, thus far, have had your share of those moments, and I think maybe this is one now.

No doubt about it! I knew it when I first stepped foot off the plane in LA in 2005. I was like, “Man, there’s some shit happenin’ right now!” (Laughs) And I also knew that I was not yet experienced enough to really channel all o’ that and zero in on the core of what it was. I didn’t have the perspective enough yet to really write about it.

In 2015, 2016, when Dave [Cobb] did Southern Family that I was a part of, and then we did Shine On Rainy Day together, there was a couple years there where I wasn’t tourin’, I wasn’t puttin’ out my own albums, I’s just writin’ for other people. Even then though, I had the ol’ FOMO– fear of missing out– because I didn’t really have any direction. But I was still very much aware ’cause I saw the beginning of modern independent country music. I was there when it happened! All that I sing about in that song is in chronological order of my firsthand experience! When Sturgill [Simpson] was blowin’ up, I saw the precursor to that– and then I wasn’t tourin’ and I was like, “Damn, it’s happenin’!” I was excited, but I was also like, “Man, I’m a part of all this as well!”

Of course, [Chris Stapleton]– I was not tourin’, my daughter was just a baby in 2015, and when he had his CMA awards moment, I was at the house, I had just put her down, and I was tryin’ to be real quiet, but I was so excited for independent country music at the time because I watched it happen! I saw that moment– it was the climax of it all!

I remember walkin’ down to Music Row the next day, I had a co-write– and just the air was fresher! It was like a storm had passed! You know what I mean? Like we’d had a storm and lightnin’ had come through! But then the day after that Chris thing happened it was like [breathes in deeply], “Fresh air!”

But I watched all that happen! If it wasn’t for that Shooter [Jennings] album, Jamey [Johnson] wouldn’t’ve got in the studio with Dave [Cobb]. If it wasn’t for that Jamey album and Shooter, Dave wouldn’t’ve got in with Sturgill [Simpson]. If it wasn’t for that Sturgill album, the Stapleton album wouldn’t’ve happened because Chris heard that album and he was like, “I want that! That’s the sound! Why can’t anybody else do that?” And he went and recorded with Dave! If those albums had not happened, Tyler Childers’ album wouldn’t’ve happened… It’s a story that we’re livin’ in– and it’s still happenin’ right now!

Tell me about the tour you’ve got comin’ up. One of the things I wanted to go to from “When Country Came Back To Town” was one of the many artists that you name check is Rowdy Cope. I know how close you were and how much he meant to you. You will be out on the road, not only with Luke Combs but with the Steel Woods… That’s gotta still be emotional.

Well, it absolutely is! And here’s another lil’ fun connector– Luke graduated from the same high school as Rowdy, right there in Black Mountain, North Carolina. When Luke first came to town, he knew Rowdy a little– he was much younger than Rowd. I had a buddy o’ mine I had talked into movin’ to Nashville– this was 2014– and one day my buddy was like, “Man, a guy just moved to town, he’s a singer, he’s a big fan o’ yours, he just wants to have a beer with ya’, and maybe ask you some questions about the business. I was like, “I don’t know what I can tell him, but yeah, man, I don’t mind.” So we hung out for a couple hours– it was Luke Combs!

Rowdy calls me durin’ this same time period, he’s like, “Man, there’s this kid– he sings his ass off! He just moved to town, he went to the same high school as me,” and they did shows early on with Luke. Luke remembers that. I was sittin’ there focused on eatin’ jerk chicken and drinkin’ bushwhackers, and he was sittin’ there thinkin’ about takin’ over the world (laughs)! Luckily, he’s a humble fella and has been kind enough to invite me on this tour! It’s been great so far, the few shows that we’ve done– and it’s wild, man! Stadiums!

You two were also a part of– and I really enjoyed your cut– the Something Borrowed, Something New John Anderson tribute. Luke did his version of “Seminole Wind”, which I know a lotta people didn’t care for, but I really enjoyed what he did with the guitars. The only issue I had was I thought you shoulda done “Low Dog Blues”! That was the track you should have sung!

That’d been good! Now see, here’s the history behind “Wild and Blue!” When I went to LA, and I would sleep on Rowdy’s couch, he’d pick me up from the airport. I lived with him for months off and on. I was homesick, man! And he was just so happy– he’d already been in LA for eight years, and I think he was so happy to have somebody as red as he was (laughs), so he kinda treated me like a little brother! But in order to help me not be homesick– and maybe not the only reason– we would listen to “Wild and Blue all the time! We would just play that song all the time! That song would always feel like home, so I had to do “Wild and Blue”.

Southern Star is available now. See Brent Cobb will be LIVE at the Capitol Theatre in Downtown Macon on Saturday, November 18th.