Brent Cobb returns to Georgia roots for new album

Brent Cobb worked with producer Brad Cook on his latest album, inspired by his move back to his home state of Georgia.

Credit: Don Van Cleave

Credit: Don Van Cleave

‘Keep ‘Em on They Toes’ spotlights the country singer’s thoughtful messaging.

Alone on the small stage at Eddie’s Attic, Brent Cobb looked out at the 55 or so people seated at tables in the intimate venue, scaled down for social distancing. A can of Miller Lite and a bottle of water perched on a stool next to him as he gripped the acoustic guitar on his lap.

“I will tell you every story if you let me,” he said with a soft smile, eliciting whoops and hollers from an audience dotted with the trucker hats being sold at Cobb’s merchandise stand in the lobby.

In his dark jeans and cowboy boots, long hair brushing the top of his guitar, Cobb talked about the song he wrote with Luke Bryan, “Good Times and Good Love,” then performed it in his smooth voice with a pronounced twang.

That night, the Georgia native was celebrating the release of his fourth album, “Keep 'Em on They Toes,” its title a direct nod to Southern dialect and memories of Cobb’s youth growing up in the tiny Georgia town of Ellaville.

“That’s the way my grandpa or any of the old-timers sitting around the Chevron station with their 59 cent Styrofoam cups of coffee would talk,” Cobb said earlier that week as he was driving to Athens to shoot a promotional video.

ExploreMic Check: Brent Cobb spending quiet time with family

Cobb, 34, is an engrossing storyteller. Whether onstage at Eddie’s Attic sharing the details of his wife — and sometimes co-songwriter — Layne, calling him on the road to announce pregnancy news (the inspiration for “Sometimes I’m a Clown”) or articulating in an interview the backstory of “Soapbox” with feisty outlaw country singer Nikki Lane (“I don’t preach no tricks, don’t talk politics/I’m just a casual singer holding my stones and my sticks,” Cobb sings), he always keeps a listener wanting more.

Brent Cobb released "Keep ‘Em On They Toes" in October.

Credit: Aubrey Denis

Credit: Aubrey Denis

His finished recording “Keep 'Em…” in pre-pandemic December, and even though the plan was always to release it in the fall, many of the album’s songs — “Shut Up and Sing,” “The World Is Ending” and even the life-affirming closer “Little Stuff” — are eerily appropriate for the current state of the country.

“Maybe someone will come up with Most Relevant Album of the Year for the Grammys,” Cobb said with a laugh. “The first song I wrote for the album was ‘This Side of the River.’ I was just sitting outside by the slough and thinking how I’ve been around everywhere the past 15 years and somehow made it back right where I started (in Georgia). I was thinking about how all over the country — and the world — how similar everyone is and don’t realize it sometimes. But the river of life, depending what side of it you’re on, people aren’t willing to check out the other side.”

Producer Brad Cook, who worked on the album with Cobb for 10 days at Overdub Lane Studio in Durham, North Carolina, laughed when told of the singer-songwriter’s “most relevant album” joke.

“I remember thinking a year ago, I was hoping that the political angle of this record would land. It’s so nuanced and colorful and well done. I think this record really resonates now,” Cook said. “That feels vital — our need to get back to a place of common dialogue and common appreciation.”

Cobb, 34, and his family — he and Layne have two young children — moved back to Georgia in 2018 after bouncing between Los Angeles and Nashville for several years. (Fellow Georgia native, Grammy-winning producer Dave Cobb, is Brent’s cousin.) While his previous albums — including his 2016 breakthrough, the Grammy-nominated “Shine on a Rainy Day,” produced by Dave — contained songs focused on his longing for his home state, this time, Cobb turned his writing inward, to thoughts and feelings.

“I’ve always felt like a lot of writers write from what their heart desires, so once we got back (to Georgia), after traveling to so many different places and meeting so many different people, my heart desired to understand the world around me and what we’re all doing here on this little spinning rock we call home,” he said.

Brent Cobb is a Georgia native who released his socially aware fourth album, "Keep ‘Em on They Toes," in October.

Credit: ALYSSE GAFKJEN

Credit: ALYSSE GAFKJEN

At the Eddie’s Attic show, a T-shirt at the merchandise stand aptly summarized Cobb’s appeal: Country Music for Grown Folks.

And it’s in songs such as “Shut Up and Sing,” with a lyric video that spotlights grainy old footage of protests and jukebox selections from Aretha Franklin and Bruce Springsteen, where Cobb’s subtle messaging and thoughtful intentions are best absorbed.

“I wanted to show that this same (expletive) has been going on forever,” Cobb said of the video. “Nowadays, when singers have something to say, people say, shut up and sing. That works for me because I articulate my thoughts better when I’m singing about them. When it’s done through a song, it’s accepted a little better. I believe in getting people to sing along, even if they don’t agree with me. I think a lot of people still don’t realize what (Springsteen’s) ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ is about and then one day maybe they’ll go, whoa, maybe I should think about the way I live my life.”

Cobb, who cites Roger Miller and Kris Kristofferson among his biggest inspirations, is cautiously optimistic about bringing the songs of “Keep 'Em on They Toes” to audiences around the country next year.

“I hope by that point there will be structure to how it all works,” Cobb said. “I’ll let the younger artists without kids be the guinea pigs.”

In the meantime, Cobb has crafted an album ideally experienced with a set of headphones in a quiet room.

“Just keep paying attention,” producer Cook said. “Brent is so good. It’s a modest album, but I hope it gets through.”

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