Why do so many people slag off The Eagles? For some, maybe it is as simple as not liking their music. For others, I expect it is more complicated, that there are people who don’t dislike the music, but find it hard to like because of the influence and effect the bands success had, because of the number of times they have heard it on the radio, year after year. Everyone has an opinion, for better or worse, on Hotel California (which went 16 x platinum!), but you would have to be cold-blooded not to have a place in your heart for Take It Easy. So, maybe it’s not the songs themselves, but the dominating success the band achieved, and the perceived commercialism that can be attributed to that success, that puts some people off. But who can really blame a record label, or a band or producer, for that matter, for having a hit, for succeeding? The music business is just that, a business. No one enters the studio trying to make a flop. The Eagles's well-honed brand of country rock infused their music into the psyche of seventies California in a way most bands can only dream of. Times have changed, today's music buying public have a wider choice of styles and formats than ever before, but that doesn't mean someone won't come along to take today's Americana/country rock sound to a larger audience.
Georgia-born Brent Cobb has spent time living in LA, where he moved in 2006 to work on his first album with his producer cousin, Dave Cobb (another Georgian), and Shooter Jennings. A couple of years later Brent moved to Nashville to see if he could turn a dollar with his songs, initially working at a Walgreens developing snapshots of other people’s lives, strangely apt for a singer-songwriter. The proceeding decade saw Cobb sign with Carnival Music as a song writer (his songs recorded by Miranda Lambert, Kenny Chesney and The Oak Ridge Boys, among others) and record his second and, now, third solo albums.
Cobb’s new album, Providence Canyon, named after a local landmark in Georgia, was recorded in Nashville’s famous Studio A, since 2016 the home of Dave Cobb’s Low Country Sound imprint for Elektra. It is a record that feels familiar straight out of the gates; the opening incantation of pedal steel, the jangle of the high-strung guitar, the easy, sunny groove of the title track, Providence Canyon, leads to Cobb’s soft vocal delivery; “Why didn’t we think of this sooner?” Well, maybe somebody did, but let’s do it again.
The album rolls on through track after track of immaculately played and produced expressions of funky seventies-style country rock, and what’s not to like. As the album progresses, you might get a sense of déjà vu, as your brain is lit up by strains of Skynyrd (High in the Country has a hook not dissimilar to Sweet Home Alabama), JJ Cale (If I Don’t See Ya) or Little Feat (30.06 wouldn’t be out of place on Feats Don’t Fail Me Now). The tunes are catchy and well written, highly polished down-home nuggets of country souls and swampy Southern rock crying out for a cold beer and a barbecue. My favourite track, album closer Ain’t a Road Too Long, suggests Cobb may have been listening to the Bay Area’s Blackalicious, as his lazy Georgia delivery takes on a conscious MC style.
There is a familiarity and an immediacy to Providence Canyon that is sure to win over many a new fan to Cobb’s music, generating both commercial success and award nominations along the way. Brent Cobb’s last album, 2016’s Shine On Rainy Day (Low Country Sound), was nominated for a Grammy, while Dave Cobb, producer of both that album and this one, has won more awards than he can possibly know what to do with, including two Grammy wins each with both Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton albums, as well as Grammy nominations with Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and Jamey Johnson’s The Guitar Song.
You don’t have to be much of a profit to predict that Providence Canyon is going to be one of the biggest Americana albums of 2018. The interesting thing, from my perspective, will be to see what cross-over appeal the album has. It’s hard not to enjoy listening to Providence Canyon’s easy-going, good-time grooves, but I can’t help but wonder if the immediacy of this music may lead to it wearing thin all too quickly, as the ear starts to crave a bit more grit, guitars that dig in that bit more, songs with more pain and anguish, something that affords more danger - more smack, less Prozac. All said and done, Brent Cobb’s career is going places fast. Without doubt, we will be hearing his songs for years to come, as sure as we will be hearing the work of his super-producer cousin, Dave Cobb, the Mark Ronson of Americana.