Album Review – Dave Cobb’s ‘Southern Family’

Dave-Cobb-Southern-Family

Coming into 2016 there was no album with more hype and anticipation than the Southern Family concept album. How could you not be excited for it? The entire album was conceived and produced by Dave Cobb (as well as being released via his own label Elektra Records), the man behind some of the hottest and most critically acclaimed albums in country and Americana over the past few years. He especially became a talked about name in music after producing Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free and Chris Stapleton’s Traveller in 2015. Isbell’s album went number one in four different genres, won two Grammys and we awarded it Album of the Year. Stapleton’s album was universally praised, dominated the 2015 CMA Awards and racked up a couple of Grammys too. Throw in the all-star cast of artists set to take part on the Southern Family album and it’s pretty easy to see why there was so much for hype for it. So after all of this buildup and anticipation, does Southern Family live up to the expectations? For the most part, it absolutely does and features some absolute stunning performances.

Southern Family begins with “Simple Song,” a reflecting and somber song. John Paul White, the former one half of the Civil Wars, performs the song and fits perfectly with it. His voice really adds desperate emotion to the song that lifts it to another level and really allows the listener to connect with it. Jason Isbell follows up with “God Is A Working Man.” Isbell explores the relationship southerners have with God, family and working hard. It very much encapsulates the life of the average southerner. Fans of Isbell’s earlier material will really enjoy this one, as it definitely feels more in the vein of his earlier work. “Down Home” is about the value of home and what it truly means. It’s not about the place, but the moments and people you share it with. Cobb’s cousin Brent Cobb performs this song and I’ll admit at first I really didn’t connect with this song much, but it has grown on me with more listens. I guess this is because while a lot of this album sounds roots-y, this song sounds more mainstream.

Miranda Lambert sounds absolutely great on “Sweet By and By.” The song is about the value of family and the lessons we can learn from them. The “roots meets gospel” feel really suits the song and Lambert well. After hearing this song it confirmed what I theorized months ago when I heard about this project: Lambert needs to get Dave Cobb to produce her music. Together I think they could create truly wonderful music. If I had to pick a favorite from this album, which isn’t easy mind you, I would have to pick Chris Stapleton and Morgane Stapleton’s “You Are My Sunshine.” As soon as the song starts playing and you hear those bluesy and dirty guitar licks, you know it’s a Stapleton song. What does surprise me though is that Morgane takes the lead on this song and is the focal point. And this is an excellent choice. Morgane absolutely gives me chills with her vocal performance and leaves me chomping at the bit for an album from her. Keep in mind this is a song everyone knows and has heard performed by countless people. Yet I think this might be the best version I’ve ever heard of the song. It’s definitive proof that Chris and Morgane Stapleton are the modern-day Johnny and June.

Zac Brown reminds us all of how great he can truly be on “Grandma’s Garden.” It can be easy to forget after his latest singles and rocky album the talent Brown possesses. It’s a really heartfelt song about a grandson learning from his grandma how to live a fulfilling and happy life and her garden serving as the metaphor. The songwriting on this song not only tells a story really well, but also stirs emotion up in the listener. Not to mention the pedal steel guitar play is tremendous. You won’t find a truer country song. “Mama’s Table” is about the value and memories a mother’s table can hold to a family. While a table is a table to some, for others it can be the family heirloom that goes from generation to generation, symbolizing the unity of a family. Again the storytelling and emotional aspects created by the songwriting is great and Jamey Johnson fits the song like a glove. It’s yet another good guest performance from Johnson as we continue to wait for a new album from him.

Southern Family maintains a pretty consistent sound throughout the album, except on “Learning.” Not a big surprise considering Americana artist Anderson East performs it and fits in the vein of his music. This is not necessarily bad, as blue-eyed soul music is very much a part of southern culture as country music. But it can be jarring for the listener after hearing roots based country for the entirety of the album. Holly Williams turns in an impressive performance on “Settle Down.” The song is about finding a person to settle down and spend the rest of your life with after a life of partying and debauchery and being able to accept the other’s faults. The acoustic based production really works well and the down-to-earth folky tone is right in Williams’ wheelhouse.

There are a lot of emotional songs throughout this album, but none more than “I Cried.” Brandy Clark sings about a woman watching her grandfather die in a hospital bed and then later having to see her grandmother struggle to live alone after her husband has died. And all she could do like any person is cry about it all. It’s one of those songs that just leave you speechless after you hear it. The song tackles death in such a simple, human and real way. It hits you like a punch straight to your gut. This is perhaps Brandy Clark’s best performance ever.

With Southern Family being inspired by the popular concept album White Mansions that featured Waylon Jennings and Jessi Coulter along with others, it’s only fitting their son Shooter Jennings appears on this album. He performs on “Can You Come Over?” and I have to say I’m quite surprised by how much I like it. The rocking steel guitar licks go well with his vocal performance and makes for a pretty fun song. Rich Robinson, founding member of The Black Crowes, brings the album to a close with “The Way Home.” It’s about how true southern culture is still thriving and something to celebrate. Nashville-based choir group The Settles Connection provide the vocals on the song and sound great. And how fitting is it to close this album with a gospel song? Great choice by Cobb to end the album with “The Way Home.”

After listening to Southern Family, you come away with a better understand and feeling of southern culture and lifestyle. It’s very easy to point out the problems that existed in southern culture in the past and the stigma this caused for the south is something that will remain with the culture for years to come. But it’s important to remember the redeeming qualities of the southern culture: family, friends, love, spirituality, home. All of these things southerners should rightly be proud of and point to as their defining qualities that make them great. This album celebrates southern pride with dignity and genuineness that should make any southerner smile. Cobb bringing together all of these artists who clearly understand southern culture, from both mainstream and independent realms, is not only a unifying moment for southern people, but country music in general. That’s something we can all appreciate.

Grade: 10/10

 

 

New Country & Americana Music Albums Set to Be Released & Expected in 2016

Time for another year of new music ahead! Last year I did a special post outlining some of the upcoming album releases in country and Americana and it was a very popular post that I knew I had to bring back again in 2016. There has already been a number of announced projects with release dates and a few that are certainly eye-catching when looking at the details of them. There are also a lot of projects that we can expect to see in 2016, but nothing is confirmed. And then of course there are a lot of rumors and stuff up in the air. This post covers it all. Will this cover everything? Probably not. So don’t go into the comments and immediately point out what is missing. Instead add anything not in the post to help out us and your fellow readers. Complaining gets you nowhere except pissing me off. Most importantly have fun speculating and discussing all of the new music that lies ahead.

Officially Announced & Set for Release

Randy Rogers Band Nothing Shines Like Neon

January 15

Randy Rogers Band – Nothing Shines Like Neon

The Texas-based country band is set to release their first album of new music in three years and their first independently in 11 years. Randy Rogers Band had released their last four albums on major labels Mercury and MCA Nashville. But like many Texas country artist who try their hand on Music Row, they got tired of the bullshit and politics and being forced to make music that appeases record executives. They’re now going back to their roots. Rogers is coming off a fantastic year in which he and fellow Texas country artist Wade Bowen put out one of the best country records of the year, good enough to earn Country Perspective’s Song of the Year and Duo of the Year. This causes enough excitement on its own, but the guests set to join on this new record put up even higher. The guests are Alison Krauss, Jerry Jeff Walker and Jamey Johnson. Needless to say I can’t wait to hear this one. Well known country producer Buddy Cannon will be producing this new record.

Brothers Osborne – Pawn Shop

The debut album from Brothers Osborne was expected early last year and even made last year’s list, but it never came out and got pushed back to now. It’s looked like the best choice, as their current single “Stay A Little Longer” will at least be a top five hit and provide buzz for their long-awaited debut album. Their debut EP I reviewed back in 2014 was solid, but the newest song they just released off the album has me more excited. It’s called “Loving Me Back” and they’re joined on it by LeeAnn Womack. If this song is an indication of the whole album, I think this could be one of the better mainstream country albums we hear in 2016.

Hank Williams Jr. – It’s About Time

This will be Hank Jr.’s first album released under the NASH Icon label. The first single off it was a new recording of “Are You Ready For The Country” where Williams was joined by special guest Eric Church. Other guests on the album include Brantley Gilbert, Brad Paisley and Justin Moore.

January 22

The Cactus Blossoms – You’re Dreaming

Will be released via Red House Records and produced by JD McPherson.

January 29

Sierra Hull – Weighted Mind

Will be released via Rounder Records.

Aubrie Sellers – New City Blues

Many critics and music insiders are buzzing about this release. For those who aren’t familiar with Aubrie Sellers, she’s the daughter of LeeAnn Womack. I bet you’re interested now. Sellers is poised to be one of the early breakouts in country and Americana in 2016. The album will be released via Carnival Records and Thirty Tigers.

February 5

Lucinda Williams – The Ghosts of Highway 20

The Americana icon returns with her first new album in two years via Thirty Tigers.

Freakwater – Scheherazade February 5 

Will be released via Bloodshot Records.

Charles Kelley – The Driver February 5

The frontman of Lady Antebellum has set out on his own solo career at the moment and his first single, the very name of his debut album, has been nominated for a Grammy. But with the single struggling at radio at the moment and Kelley being forced to cancel a lot of 2016 tour dates, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this release get pushed back. But when it does come out I’ll be interested in its sound.

Vince Gill – Down To My Last Bad Habit February 12

You know how much of a sucker I am for Vince Gill. Being released via MCA Nashville, it’s the first album of new music from Gill in five years. It’s Vince freaking Gill and you will want to hear it.

Wynonna & The Big Noise – Self-Titled – February 12

Wynonna Judd will be releasing his first album under her and her band’s name via Curb Records. Jason Isbell will be making a guest appearance on it.

Lorrie Morgan – Letting Go…Slow – February 12

Her first new album in five years will be released via Shanachie Entertainment.

Lake Street Dive – Side Pony February 19 

Not a lot of details, other than Dave Cobb is producing it. That should be enough to warrant your attention.

Waco Brothers – Going Down in History February 26 

This will be the first new record from this group in over ten years. Will be released via Bloodshot Records.

Loretta Lynn – Full Circle – March 4

The country music legend will be covering old classics, collaborating with legends and releasing a few new tunes on this record.

Dave-Cobb-Southern-Family

Various Artists – Southern Family – March 18

There’s no other project in country and Americana circles right now that has people more excited than this album. Let’s run down the details:

  • Dave Cobb is producing it and will be released via Cobb’s Elektra Records
  • The inspiration for it comes from the classic White Mansions album that included Waylon Jennings and Eric Clapton
  • The artists on this record are staggering and impressive. The list of artists on this record include: Chris & Morgane Stapleton, Miranda Lambert, Holly Williams, Jamey Johnson, Shooter Jennings, Rich Robinson, Anderson East, Zac Brown, John Paul White, Jason Isbell, Brandy Clark and Brent Cobb.

I could very easily see this end up being one of the best records of the year in all of music. It could also end up being one of the most important albums of the year and maybe in country music history, as this album unites the brightest names of country and Americana. All of this talent working together under the guidance of Dave Cobb has me giddy in anticipation to hear it. It could be what unites mainstream country, independent country and Americana together. Can March 18 get here?

Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter – March 26

Brandy Clark – Big Day In A Small Town – April 1

This will be the sophomore album from the accomplished singer-songwriter. I expect this to be even better than 12 Stories, which means I think this has the potential to be an album of the year candidate.

Hayes Carll – (Yet To Be Named) – April 8

Will be released via Thirty Tigers.

Expected in 2016, But No Official Release Date

Keith Urban – Ripchord

We know the name, but no release date.

The Band Perry – Heart + Beat

There were rumors of them collaborating on a song with Nicki Minaj, which supposedly forced the release date back. But really it was because “Live Forever” bombed at radio and commercially. They would be better off just scrapping this album.

Karen Jonas – Country Songs (?)

Back in November Jonas said on Twitter she was working on her record. We could be seeing it sometime as early as spring 2016. Whenever it comes out I’m anxious to hear it, as her 2014 debut album Oklahoma Lottery netted her our 2014 Female Artist of the Year award and was an album of the year finalist.

Reckless Kelly

Matt Woods

Would be the followup to Country Perspective 2014 Album of the Year finalist With Love From Brushy Mountain.

Holly Williams 

Working with Dave Cobb on a new record.

Jack Ingram – Midnight Motel (?)

Ingram supposedly has enough music recorded for several records.

Natalie Stovall & The Drive – Heartbreak

Rumors & Speculation

Sturgill

Sturgill Simpson’s Third Album

You have to think Simpson will be releasing his third album this year and his first under major label Atlantic Records. His first two albums were released less than a year apart. Last year Sturgill didn’t release any new music and didn’t need to as more people continued to buy Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and pack his concerts full. The little bit we know about this third album is that Dave Cobb is producing it again, it’s already been recorded last year and there’s plenty of material that could be considered for it based off a 2014 interview Dave Cobb had with Rolling Stone. Cobb also said in the same interview regarding Sturgill’s next record: “We’re already doing something totally different and it will probably make a lot of people mad.” So the intrigue for this album should be varied and high when it’s announced.

Garth Brooks

When he released his comeback album in 2014, he also said there would be another album to follow it. But nothing has been said and Garth has ceased releasing singles to radio. It’s hard to tell with Garth, but a new album from him could come in 2016.

Jamey Johnson

Jamey Johnson did a lot of cool collaborations in 2015 (George Strait, Don Henley) and yet he didn’t release a new album. What gives Jamey? He promised at the beginning of last year we would see multiple releases from him throughout the year and he only released two singles. Last year I guaranteed we would see a new album from him. This year I’m just going to say we’ll see it eventually.

Miranda Lambert

It wasn’t a good 2015 for Miranda Lambert, personally or professionally. She divorced fellow country music superstar Blake Shelton and was practically non-existent at country radio and awards shows. It was a down year in every way for Lambert. But 2016 could be a huge year for her, as it’s been two years since her last album, so she’s poised to released a new record. You have to think this past year will fuel many of the songs on the record and make for some interesting music.

Dixie Chicks

They’re embarking on their first North American tour in several years. You have to think a new album may come out too. And if they release an album I’ll be highly intrigued to see the reception and reaction of the country music industry.

Pistol Annies

I haven’t seen any clue for a new album from this supergroup, but I have a hunch that it’s possible. What makes me think this is after the year women had in country music in 2015, Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley all want to make a statement. What better way than release another Pistol Annies album?

Florida Georgia Line

In an interview with Billboard, the duo said they will “probably” release a new album in spring 2016. With bro country dead, Florida Georgia Line will be forced to take a new direction. Their last big was the best song they’ve ever released, “Dirt.” It was also their most serious song. So maybe they might take a more serious approach. I could also easily see them donning three-piece suits and ripping off Bruno Mars. I think it’s best to keep expectations low with these two and then be pleasantly surprised later if they release something good.

Josh Turner & Gary Allan

I put both of these artists together because both are in the same exact situation. Both released singles in 2015 and neither lived up to their usual expectations. Turner released a solid love song in “Lay Low” and ended up peaking just inside the top 30, which was unfortunate. Allan catered to trends with “Hangover Tonight” and it bombed in every way. This caused both of their labels to put albums that were expected to come out in 2015 on an indefinite hiatus. It’s a shame because I think both will be good albums. I heard some of Allan’s new songs in-person and they were very good. Turner always delivers. Let’s hope we hear both albums in 2016.

Others Highly Likely/On Track To Release New Albums This Year:

  • Brantley Gilbert
  • Cole Swindell
  • Granger Smith
  • Jason Aldean
  • First Aid Kit
  • Shovels & Rope
  • Old Crow Medicine Show
  • Dierks Bentley
  • Sunny Sweeney
  • Wade Bowen 
  • Lee Ann Womack
  • Blake Shelton
  • Jon Pardi
  • Mo Pitney
  • Eric Paslay
  • Brad Paisley
  • Kenny Chesney 
  • Little Big Town
  • Sam Hunt