Rising country star Brent Cobb making local debut at Belly Up
If You Go …
Who: Brent Cobb
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Friday, May 5, 8 p.m.
How much: $5
Tickets: Belly Up box office; www.bellyupaspen.com More info: Cobb’s performance will be followed by a late “Cico De Mayo Pary” and show by Berkel Beats at 10: 30 p.m.
Way back when he was playing with his first garage band as a teenager, gigging around his tiny Georgia hometown, Brent Cobb paid homage to John Denver with a localized version of “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” It swapped out the familiar lyrics about West Virginia for the local flavor of Cobb’s Ellaville, Georgia.
“Almost heaven, Schley County,” it opened. “We only got one red light, but we got 15 policemen / Life is old there, old beyond belief / Beer, wine and whiskey is how we spell relief / Red Clay Road, gettin’ stoned…”
So it goes without saying that Cobb — now 30, based in Nashville and touring behind his breakout album “Shine on a Rainy Day” — is unabashedly proud to come play John Denver’s adopted hometown (and perhaps offer a rendition of his old “Country Roads” spoof) tonight at Belly Up in his Aspen debut.
“I love John Denver — I’ve always loved John Denver,” Cobb said from a recent tour stop in Las Vegas, where he was opening up for Jamey Johnson and Margo Price.
Cobb has been writing songs all his life and been working as a songwriter in Nashville for the past eight years, penning originals for the likes of Miranda Lambert (“Old Shit”), Kenny Chesney (“Don’t It”) and Luke Bryan (“Tailgate Blues”).
“Shine on a Rainy Day,” his major label debut, includes songs Cobb has collected over the years. Overall, it exudes a cool, easygoing charm with some biting humor and old Southern wisdom in a refreshingly original style that rejects the tired cliche and convention of mainstream country. The record establishes Cobb as an heir to John Prine and Gram Parsons (Rolling Stone called him the “Redneck Paul Simon”) and a member of a new, fiercely independent country music movement. Even the term “country” doesn’t quite fit.
“I just say ‘rural music,’” Cobb said. “It just feels and sounds rural and the lyrics lend themselves to a rural way of life. It’s not really Southern. I mean, I’m from the South, but I don’t think you can just put it in that category.”
The record’s standout track is “South of Atlanta” — a kind of insta-classic anthem of simple, small-town living that’s custom made for late night sing-alongs among the college set in Athens and around the south. It opens just about every Cobb show these days.
“I’m proud of my hometown and where I’m from,” he said of the song.
Cobb recalled writing the first verse years ago, then shelving “South of Atlanta” until he hooked up with fellow songwriter Adam Wright in Nashville. Wright is from Newman, Georgia, and has a similar background and feel for the rhythms of life in the shadow of Atlanta.
“We wanted to capture the feeling of pride in the song: pride in our hometown,” Cobb said.
The album also includes swampy rockers like “Let the Rain Come Down” and ballads like the title track and “The World.” As an opener for Johnson and Price on their big spring tour, Cobb has been playing with a four-piece band and hasn’t often had the chance to perform the album’s more low-key material. He looks forward to the solo headlining show at Belly Up, he said, because it’ll allow him to stretch out a bit more and dig into the ballads.
The new album and tour has been a breakthrough for Cobb, with a first taste of commercial success and a growing national following. Working on Music Row in Nashville, he’s all too aware of the formulaic mainstream in country music today, and is consciously bucking against it with his personal vision and self-styled approach. Cobb sees the current moment as ripe for a revolution in the form — something like the outlaw country revolt of a generation ago. He points to the likes of Price and Johnson, Nikki Lane, Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell as pioneers in this more independent, more individual movement for rural music.
“And Chris Stapleton busted the gates wide open for the mainstream to accept it,” he said. “It’s an amazing time to make music that is honest right now.”
Another player on that scene is his cousin Dave Cobb, who produced “Shine on a Rainy Day.” Though they’re cousins, they only met 12 years ago, when Dave had produced Shooter Jennings but was years away from his recent, award-winning run on records by Isbell, Simpson, Anderson East, Lori McKenna and the like. His producer cousin brought a young Brent Cobb to Los Angeles to record in 2006.
When both settled in Nashville, Brent would write with artists that Dave was producing, but they didn’t have the clout to make a record together.
“All I wanted to do was work with Dave,” he recalled, “but it was hard to convince anybody in Nashville. I didn’t have any money. Dave didn’t have any money. It was hard to convince anybody to invest in me and my cousin, the record producer they didn’t know.”
As Dave made a name for himself, he brought Brent in to contribute a song to his “Southern Family” compilation album. And when he got his own imprint on Elektra Records, “Low Country Sound,” he brought Brent in to make what would become “Shine on a Rainy Day.”
“It felt like coming home again,” he said.
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