Between the bluesy slide guitar and the picture-painting lyrics, “Down Home” evokes the exact feeling the title eludes.
Dave Cobb is on a mission: to bring quality country music to the masses, despite what country radio is jamming down our throats. How is he planning on doing this? By releasing a compilation album with all of his friends, who just so happen to be some of the most talented singer/songwriters in country music. He even admits that, amid the current popular music trends, a compilation album is probably not at the top of anyone’s list. But that is what has made Cobb such a cult favorite in Nashville: not following money or trends, but rather his own heart. His list of producing credits includes (but is not limited to) Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Jamey Johnson, and Shooter Jennings, all of whom are leading the charge in the country music revival—and who just so happen to appear on Southern Family.
Front to back, this album stays true to its title. Whether it’s in the description of a loving, hard-working preacher grandfather in Jason Isbell’s “God Is a Working Man,” the double entendres in Jamey Johnson’s “Mama’s Table,” or Zac Brown’s “Grandma’s Garden,” this album creates a landscape both musically and lyrically that is easily identifiable with Southern culture. It is truly inspiring to hear real country songwriting, performed by some of the most talented individuals in the business, and produced by one of music’s best.
The album’s undeniable standout track is “You Are My Sunshine” performed by Morgane Stapleton, featuring her husband, Chris. But this is not your typical rendition of the old standard. It contains Chris Stapleton’s signature guitar tone, with more than a little bit of outlaw country soul. This, coupled with Morgane’s incredible vocal range, tone, and control, and Chris’s subtle, yet powerful harmonies, make this track a perfect centerpiece to an already is incredible compilation. While the rest of the songs on the compilation are great both lyrically and musically, they don’t contain the power of “You Are My Sunshine.” Cobb has a way of recording instruments that border on minimalistic, but still sound very large from a production standpoint, something very apparent on this track.
Cobb’s singing and songwriting brother, Brent Cobb, is featured on “Down Home.” This track is a great addition to the compilation. It’s reminiscent of an old Roger Miller or Tom T. Hall tune with a quirky storytelling feel, while still resting on brilliant songwriting and keeping in line with the general feel of the album. Between the bluesy slide guitar and the picture-painting lyrics, “Down Home” evokes the exact feeling the title eludes.
“God Is a Working Man” was written and performed by Isbell. It is a track that, to me, is very reminiscent of late-’80s/early ’90s country. The instrumentation is again minimalist, with each instrument serving a very particular purpose. Not a single instrument was recorded in vain, which makes for a very focused and distinct arrangement of not only this song, but every song on the album. While I’m a sucker for songs about parents and grandparents, this song in particular pays homage to hardworking folks, while not falling victim to the stereotypical footprint of the “hardworking county song.”
The surprise track of the album is “Sweet By and By” from Miranda Lambert. On first look at the track listing, her name sticks out like a sore thumb due to her association with the “pop-country” debacle. But she really came through with this particular cut. While it is still slightly reminiscent of past Lambert, it also has an old Dolly Parton feel with a tinge of bluegrass, which could be gathered from the title itself. It takes a standard bluegrass riff and wraps it with a groove drum beat, Fender Rhodes, steel guitar, as well as some beautiful chorus harmonies to create a really beautiful song with a great message.
Cobb is responsible for producing some of the most “country” albums in recent years. He’s never let trends determine with whom he associates, and Southern Family lets the listener know exactly who Cobb respects, as well as what he and country music are capable of, all in a single album. Hopefully, this compilation will serve as a demo reel of sorts, drawing fresh new talent with a like-minded love and respect for quality country music to the forefront, and putting the nail in the coffin of “bro-country” for good. A | Greg Clark