Apr 2, 2019
Mar 1, 2019
Sometimes the side-man deserves to be a front-man. Kyle Daniel, who's been a touring guitarist with artists like Casey James and Clare Dunn, steps to the mic and displays an exceptional voice on "Somewhere in Between", a song from his forthcoming second EP. This easy-rolling song fits easily on a playlist with the likes of Brent Cobb and Chris Stapleton, sonically and vocally. "Somewhere in Between" straddles Americana and the more traditional leaning parts of modern country - in other words, the kind of stuff I wish was dominating mainstream radio. Give it a good listen; I think you'll dig it.
From Daniel: "Over the past few years as a musician, I have kind of felt like I was in the waiting room of my career. Although I have accomplished some things I am very proud of, I have yet to feel like I’ve really had the opportunity to do what I want as an artist, on an elevated level. I’ve felt “Somewhere in Between.” I think that we all feel this way at some point in life; when things seem to be moving, yet at a standstill all at the same time.
This was an internal struggle song, so it was a little easier to write than most. When Jackie Leigh, Seth Rentfrow and I got together to write this song, it came out so naturally and honest. There was some sort of magic in the room that day that really helped to shape this song. I think we were all able to get on the same page with this because we all felt the exact same way, at the exact same time.
When we went into the studio to begin cutting this song, I vividly remember telling the boys seconds before the record button was hit, “Let’s make this one sound like it should be in a Quentin Tarantino film.” We wanted it to have that southwestern/Americana feel that was tied to the melody and lyrics. I felt like we hit as close to the mark as we possibly could have on the production."
More information about Daniel below the song player!
Kyle Daniel // What’s There to Say? (March 15)
What’s there to say when you’ve conceded to the hardships of life? Kyle Daniel wrestles with this question throughout his sophomore EP, aptly titled What’s There to Say? Delivering his message via bright melodies and a wall of electric guitar, Daniel navigates the trials and tribulations of being a working musician, failed relationships, being surrounded by addiction and growing up in modern-day America. Wearing his heart on a tattered sleeve, he pairs everyman lyricism with a rusty vocal akin to Blackberry Smoke, Will Hoge and Chris Stapleton, bristled with a warm guitar bravado. It comes as no surprise that he’s road-dogged as a guitarist for Clare Dunn, Jimmy Hall and Casey James, as well as opened for the likes of Jason Isbell and Miranda Lambert. These are rich, authentic stories told from the perspective of someone who’s wrestled with the ups and downs of being a touring musician.
His new project carries with it tremendous gravitas, particularly in a time when truth is under the microscope. Daniel draws upon the uncertainty of an ever-evolving music scene, currently in a state of transition especially in the age of streaming. “You learn to take the victories as they come and be proud of those,” he says, considering the weight of his new music and the past year of his personal life. “Born to Lose” ignites the set from inside out, as he turns his gaze on the taboo topic of addiction and its omniscience in our everyday lives.
“I tried to start digging through all of the shame in hopes I’d see her again,” he sings, the yearning in his soul spilling over onto gold-flecked guitars. The instruments crash against each other like rolling thunder, and it’s both a cathartic sigh and a mountain cry.
“I wondered what it would feel like to be completely down on your luck and feel like there’s nothing you can do about it or nobody to help you. In the title itself, you feel like you were damned from the time you popped out into this world,” he says. Within the song’s shiny structure, borrowing from classic rock as much as contemporary country, he observes such tragedies as the opioid crisis but veers on the side of uncompromising empathy. “I wanted to bring awareness to it without being completely negative in that respect,” he stresses.
It is from such a caring viewpoint that Daniel has approached much of his work, whether it be music-making directly or working behind the scenes. Born and raised in Bowling Green, Kentucky, he was instilled early on with a diligence for an honest day’s work and never giving up. Through much of his youth, he played on various traveling all-star baseball teams, but an accident in his freshman year of high school left him with a broken femur -- and idle hands.
He picked up the guitar to pass the time and was instantly struck by the power of music.
He spent three months honing his craft and later formed his first band. “By default, I had to learn to sing. Nobody else wanted to sing because they were too timid,” remembers Daniel, downplaying his own raw abilities as a natural born storyteller. When that endeavor ended, he founded a trio called the Kyle Daniel Band at 16 and went on to win the Southern Kentucky Blues Challenge. He was given the opportunity to head to the International Blues Competition, held in Memphis, Tenn., and placed in the finals.
Feeling the buzz of success, he initially opted out of college and took off his first year to explore music on the local scene. “But my dad was like, ‘You need a backup plan. Not everybody can be a freaking rockstar,’” he says. He put his guitar away and sought a music business degree at Middle Tennessee State University. “I felt like a piece of me was missing at some point and decided to put together a college band,” he says of The Last Straw, a blend of outlaw country, blues and southern rock. They soon caught the attention of the industry and snagged opening gigs for Jason Isbell, Blues Traveler and the Black Crowes.
Following college, Daniel focused his attention on using his business degree and accepted a merchandise manager position for a Los Angeles group called Vintage Trouble. Through his work, he gravitated toward artist management and went on to rep a band on the road with Taylor Swift for the global Red Tour. “I absolutely got annihilated,” he recalls. “It was not my bag.”
He soon left his tour manager gig, and not a week later, he received an unexpected call from Wet Willie’s Jimmy Hall, who was seeking a guitar player for their upcoming tour. “I hadn’t played for three or four years really,” he says. “So, I put myself through boot camp to start playing with him.” Daniel toured around the country with Wet Willie for about a year before landing on Casey James’ tour, a risk he took that later led him to nab gigs with Bob Seger, Clare Dunn, Miranda Lambert, Lee Brice and Chris Young.
A new cycle of life came his way, and he made his way back home where he worked with a group called Jericho Woods. But feeling dissatisfied creatively, Daniel stepped back from collaboration and spent the next few years concentrating on finding his own songwriting voice, penning hundreds of songs in that time. He worked his way around Nashville and linked up with such titans as Brent Cobb, Dave Kennedy, Channing Wilson (Jason Eady, Luke Combs) and Seth Rentfrow, a force of nature who would soon become vital to Daniel’s many solo artistic endeavours.
“It took every single step of the way for me to be ready for this type of career and well-versed in in music both on front of and behind the scenes,” says Daniel, whose career was nearly derailed completely last spring when he had extensive surgery on his right ear. Four and a half hours post-op, he awoke and soon discovered things were much worse than he thought, his doctor prompted an immediate surgery on his left ear. “The doctor said if I had waited another month, I would have been completely deaf in my left ear. An infection had eroded two of the bones in my ear, and I couldn’t walk by myself for two weeks after the surgery.”
The fighter that he is, Daniel was in the studio cutting his new EP just under two months later. What’s There to Say? is pressed with unwavering perseverance, gritty urgency and viscerally-charged brokenness that quakes at his core. His voice is even more self-assured than on his 2018 debut, which landed on the iTunes Country Chart and was written about three times in Rolling Stone County. With such standouts on the new record as “Somewhere in Between,” in which he laments feeling stuck in second gear of his life and career, and “God Bless America (Damn Rock ‘N Roll),” a ‘70s-inspired arena revolt against the system, Daniels illustrates a colorful blend of tales backed by a rollicking beat.
“This EP came out in a flash. It was unbelievable how seamless this thing worked,” he says, citing how everything was tracked, dubbed and mixed within 12 days. “Songs have their power in the person.”
What’s There to Say? captures a special moment in time for Daniel as he looks to build on momentum built and praise garnered in 2018. This EP is lightning in a bottle; a readily-accessible, deeply relatable culmination of his years of surviving each and every challenge life has thrown at him, and it’s the perfect vessel for Daniel break out in 2019 and beyond.
Dec 13, 2018
Our Top 25 Albums of 2018 were voted on by all contributors (including 2 new ones) again this year: Kelcy Salisbury, Robert Dean, Kevin Broughton, Jeremy Harris, Trailer (me), and Matthew Martin
(with friend Chad as a tiebreaker). We welcomed Kasey Anderson and Scott Colvin as first time voters. Today, we reveal numbers 11-25 of our favorites and tomorrow will count down the top 10!
24. Handsome Jack - Everything's Gonna Be Alright
The best rock ‘n’ roll album of 2018, from a power trio in Buffalo, N.Y. The Robinson bros. might have killed The Black Crowes, but the spirit of the band breathes through these guys. ~Kevin Broughton
23. (tie) Larkin Poe - Venom and Faith
Rebecca and Megan Lovell (formerly of the bluegrass band The Lovell Sisters with older sister Jessica) are mostly “known” as touring musicians for the likes of Kristian Bush and Elvis Costello…among others. On their fourth full-length album, the sisters absolutely hit the sublime with their powerful brand of roots rock and blues. Rebecca’s sultry and soulful vocals blend perfectly with Megan’s hot bluesy slide guitar licks for one of the finest albums in recent memory. ~Scott Colvin
23. (tie) Western Centuries - Songs From the Deluge
Great musicianship from the closest thing to a country super-group 2018 has seen. These guys are all heavily grounded in bluegrass, yet this album synthesizes all the best parts of American roots music. Come for the three-headed monster of vocals and songwriting, stay for the pedal steel. ~KB
22. Amanda Shires - To the Sunset
More than a decade into her solo career, Shires has established herself as one of the truly great songwriters and instrumentalists of her generation. With To the Sunset - an album that is by turns plaintive, unbridled, and fragile - Shires made what is, at least to this point, the album of her career. Calling it a "Rock" record or an "Americana" record is reductive; To the Sunset is an Amanda Shires record and, at this point, she's good enough to be her own genre. ~Kasey Anderson
21. Lincoln Durham - And Into Heaven Came the Night
20. High on Fire - Electric Messiah
Is there any project Matt Pike is involved with that sucks? Pretty sure that’s impossible. Check out "Sanctioned Annihilation" & "Drowning Dog." ~Kelcy Salisbury
19. Sleep - The Sciences
The Sciences is one of the year’s best records and moves beyond, “good follow up to Dopesmoker,” and places Sleep as the undisputed heirs to the throne of Black Sabbath. The Sciences is not only a neck breaking, sludgy love song to the universe, it’s a poem to the mysteries of faith, but it’s also a masterpiece. ~Robert Dean
18. Blackberry Smoke - Find a Light
These guys are working hard. Consecutive years with top-flight albums, they retain their Southern rock identity without being chained to it. This is an all-American band. ~KB
17. Great Peacock - Gran Pavo Real
I've been a fan of Great Peacock for a few years now and after their last album, I was excited to see where they would go. As I would go to shows over the next few years, it became clear they were going to go in a more electric direction. And, they absolutely did. This album is a rocker full of the harmonies and introspective lyrics you've come to expect. This is the one you reach for on Saturday night around midnight. ~Matthew Martin
16. John Prine - The Tree of Forgiveness
People are always naming "greatest living songwriters" like John Prine isn't still teaching a masterclass every time he drops new music. Admittedly, that isn't as frequent as in the past, but on The Tree of Forgiveness, Prine reminds us why he's the undisputed. Tuneful, insightful, and bright, this isn't a late-life woe-is-me dirge-fest like many elder statesmen and women give us; this is prime Prine. ~Trailer
15. Caleb Caudle - Crushed Coins
Caudle has been pumping out perfect country songs for a while now. On Crushed Coins, Caudle hits his full stride. These songs are the best set of songs he's put out. The music and production are absolutely suited for his voice and his songs. "NYC In The Rain" is a perfect song and a perfect Caleb Caudle song. I don't think there's anyone else I can imagine singing this song other than Caudle. If you haven't checked out his work, this album is the one to start with. It's Caudle at his best. ~MM
14. Ashley McBryde - Girl Going Nowhere
The truth: Ashley McBryde doesn't fit the boring sonic pastiche that is mainstream country radio. Her songs are too good, her voice too unique. She deserves airplay and stardom though, and I hope she's one of the new leaders to push the door down. Girl Going Nowhere is a statement of being, filled with catchy and well-crafted songs. "Tired of Being Happy" is an absolute gem. ~Trailer
13. Brent Cobb - Providence Canyon
A great follow-up to 2016’s “Shine On Rainy Day.” The last three songs of that record were swampy and a little menacing, a thread woven through this album, particularly on “If I Don’t See Ya’” and “.30-06,” with their bad-boy Skynyrd feel. But when I hear “King of Alabama,” I’ll always remember the one time I got to see a then-fledgling musician, Wayne Mills. It was in Tuscaloosa in 2002, the night before heavy underdog Auburn beat Alabama 17-7. I was blown away then by the guy’s talent, and to this day I regret I never saw him again. No one that night or any other would ever dream of his fate: “It was a friend who took him from his family.” Cobb has done Mills fitting memorial, and made another great album. ~KB
12. Sarah Shook & The Disarmers - Years
It’s not often I can look to my hometown for musical pride. Let’s be honest, until Sarah Shook came around, Foreigner’s Lou Gramm might be Rochester, NY’s most notable artist (C’Mon, admit it, “Jukebox Hero” and “Urgent” were freaking awesome). Shook is a total badass and this album proves it. ~SC
11. Shooter Jennings - Shooter
Shooter is a portrait of a man who’s come to terms with his abilities, goals, and what he’s after. You can’t write a bunch of feel-good tunes that go hard with the beers, without a sense of purpose and humility …otherwise it comes off contrived and douchey, AKA most of the garbage pop country radio peddles. ~RD
Albums beyond the top 25 that appeared on multiple ballots:
Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer
Hawks and Doves - From a White Hotel
Colter Wall - Songs of the Plains
Vince Staples - FM!
Eric Church - Desperate Man
JP Harris - Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing
Mike & the Moonpies - Steak Night at the Prairie Rose
Buffalo Gospel - On the First Bell
Pusha T - Daytona
Oct 15, 2018
Oct 13, 2018
Aug 10, 2018
By Kevin Broughton
Jason Eady is a country artist with a bluegrass soul. He cut his teeth with his stepfather in central Mississippi, going to picking parties and bluegrass jams, but his six solo albums to date have all been in a traditional country vein. But on the heels of his critically acclaimed self-titled 2017 record, Eady has gone fully unplugged and put his own unique, rocking stamp on the bluegrass ethos. With help from an A-list duo from the genre, he’s made his best album to date, I Travel On, released today on Old Guitar Records.
It’s a good-time record made by a man at peace with himself and the world. We chatted about being positive while staying authentic, clearing out a Croatian bar in Paris, and jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. And other stuff.
I Travel On is a distinct departure – in several ways -- from your self-titled 2017 album. That one made our top 10, but it was pretty understated and a little somber in places. Musically and thematically this record may be its polar opposite. What were your mindset and/or goals with regard to the musical approach this time?
Well, this record and the last one seem pretty different, but I think of the last record as a bridge to this one. Before the self-titled album, I’d been very electric, with lots of steel guitar – country music. Sonically, they were bigger productions – not huge, though – than the last album. On the last one we kind of pulled it back; it was more of an acoustic album. I Travel On is fully acoustic. So I think there’s a sonic thread running through to it. And I had been wanting to move that direction.
About three years ago we played a show in Bozeman, Montana. And this room is fantastic; it’s one of those places everyone plays when they go to Montana. But it is small. I don’t know the actual capacity, but I would guess 30-40 people, and it’s wider than it is deep, so there are only about four rows of chairs. And we started bringing in all our gear, but the thought of cramming all those amps in just seemed weird to me. So we grabbed all our acoustic guitars, stripped down the drum kit and played the whole set that way. And it just sounded great. So I went into the last album with that idea, and toured that way as well.
The first thing I noticed on the opening cut, “I Lost My Mind in Carolina,” was that you brought in a stud on acoustic guitar. Got a ringer on Dobro, too. Who are these guys, and what was the recording process like?
Rob Ickes (dobro) and Trey Hensley (guitar) are the two guys. And my favorite thing about this record is that it’s real and organic. Our developed the sound by touring around and playing that way, where everybody did their own natural thing. And we came up with a sound that’s sort of bluegrass on the top end and a real groove on the bottom. While we were driving around the country we listened to these guys – they’re a duo, and they are absolute studs in the bluegrass world; their very first album got nominated for a Grammy in the bluegrass category. They’re just phenomenal.
So as it came time to make this record, I wanted it to be our live band, but I didn’t want there to be overdubs. I wanted the record to sound like we’re all sitting in a room. Our lead player can do all those things, but I didn’t want overdubs. So since we had been listening to them, and I just called Trey and said, “Would you guys want to do this?” He said yes. It came from a very real place; we didn’t just say, “Who are some studio badasses we can call?” We tracked 100 percent live from top to bottom, no overdubs. Our band would work them up the night before, but we had never played them with Rob and Trey before we recorded. Everything you hear on this record is what you would have heard if you had been standing in the room while we recorded.
Yeah, I know!
There’s a real blues/bluegrass feel to the whole thing.
I would never in the world set out and try to make a pure bluegrass record, because I have way too much respect for the genre. To be in that world, you really have to live it your whole life. You can’t dabble in bluegrass. But yeah, it was a conscious thing we were going for; we’re calling it “groove grass.” We wanted to hint at bluegrass, and people will definitely hear that aspect of it, but with pure bluegrass you don’t have drums or a bass guitar. “Groove grass” sums it up, really.
I want to get into several specific songs in a minute, but something stands out on the album as a whole and I’d like to get your take on it. Brent Cobb told me a couple of years ago that it’s possible to write country or roots songs with authenticity and depth without their all being sad and depressing. I think that’s rare, but it certainly holds true for this album of yours – and to a large degree the last one. What do you think of that premise? You seem to be a pretty happy guy.
I am. And I love Brent, by the way, I think he’s one of the best artists around today. Just incredible. But he’s right. And there’s that temptation when you’re writing songs that you want to be authentic or real; they can turn out depressing. But I wanted this album to feel good. There are some points on the record where if you want to listen to words and dig into meanings – and I worked hard on the words – there’s some depth to latch onto if you want to listen to it that way. But I also wanted this to be a record that you could just put on and play and enjoy. I get that there’s a need for feel-good music, where you don’t have to just think all the time. There are plenty of examples of people – like John Prine and Paul Simon – who write great songs, but I don’t know what they mean half the time. They just feel really good. Just put it on. Move your feet. Move your head.
But Brent’s right; you have to pull yourself out of that box, because it seems like there are two extremes in country music right now. It’s either said and depressing, or it’s so fluffy, about drinking beer on the river on the weekend.
Speaking of being a “Happy Man,” there’s a song with that very title. Were you making a statement for the record with that one?
I definitely was. I just wanted to get that out there. God forbid if anything happened to me, anyone could listen to that song and know that I’m a happy person and have lived a good life, and these are the reasons why. Because when you boil it down, there’s really only a few things that make you happy: There’s friends, there’s family, there’s doing what you love and the experiences you have. Here, there are two verses with three things each that make me happy. And at the end of it, I couldn’t think of anything else. The simplicity of it was very intentional.
And the origin of it – I don’t want to drag this out but this is a funny story – was overseas last year. We went to Paris, France to play a festival and wound up in a Croatian bar right across from the Notre Dame Cathedral. We could hear music playing inside that was lively, so we went in. This was like a Tuesday night but there was a party going on, so we wandered in. The bartender asks Courtney and me what we were doing there and we told him we were musicians. He asks my name, and dials me up on Spotify, and just started playing my music randomly, however that works. And it was just like three of my most depressing songs, one after another.
Yeah, man. Cleared out the bar. Everyone went outside to smoke all at once. Killed the whole vibe of the room. I started getting depressed! And I thought, “Good gosh, if I heard this for the first time I’d think this fellow is depressed, too. This guy’s got problems.” So I wanted to get it out there, that it’s not the case. I’ve written plenty of sad songs, but that’s just something I like to do sometimes. And ironically, “Happy Man” is one of the slowest songs on the record.
About the only thing that comes close to a downer on this album is “She Had to Run,” about a woman getting out of a dangerous domestic situation. Is there a story behind that song?
Yeah, I won’t go into the details of it because it’s a very personal song, but one I needed to write. And I knew when I got ready to make this album that this song would be the outlier, but it was too important to me. I had to get that one on there. I just hope that maybe there’s one person who hears it and thinks about getting out of a situation like that.
I won’t pry into specifics, but let me ask: Does the person who inspired it know about the song?
She does. We haven’t talked about it a lot because it’s still too close, too fresh. She got out, but it was frighteningly close. It was so close that the next person who was with that guy didn’t get out.
“Always a Woman” is intriguing. Tonally, it’s dark and in a minor key – by the way, is there another chord, or just C minor?
That’s it, the whole way through.
Lyrically, it’s kind of an ironic Valentine. “There’s only one thing between the devil and a good man” is really clever, because it can mean two very different things.
Unpack that song for me.
That’s the first song I wrote for this album, and the only one where I had a title set beforehand. Courtney and I were hanging out with a friend who was having a bad time and she asked what was the matter. He kind of shrugged it off and she said, “Is it a woman?” He said, “It’s always a woman.” I wrote that down, and I sat down with my guitar and just started droning on that C minor chord. And it’s a very specific fingerpicking pattern that never stops for four minutes; if you watch me play it my fingers [on the neck] never move.
And like we were just talking about, I didn’t want to write another sad song. So I had the first verse and thought, “This song has to turn. ‘Always a woman’ doesn’t have to mean good or bad.” So musically we used some dynamics to change things up, and I tried to change that phrase from a positive to a negative as well. And I think the whole theme of the record is finding the positive in things and moving forward. And that’s why we called the album “I Travel On.” It’s about moving forward. A lot of the songs are about physically traveling; this one does it in a mental space.
And the feedback/distortion thing is a nice backbone. Nothing electric there?
No! That’s the dobro player raking across the strings, and the fiddle player doing it in some spots, muting his strings. Everybody thinks there are electric instruments on that song and there aren’t. We had a videographer come in and shoot while we were recording that song; you’ll see it when it comes out.
And I guess you had to include at least a couple waltzes to preserve domestic bliss. I take it that’s your bride singing harmony on “Below The Waterline?”
Ha. Yeah, if you hear harmonies on this album there Courtney’s. I’ve always wanted to write a bluegrass power waltz. I love those, because they make the harmonies just scream. Courtney and I wrote that one together.
I was gonna ask if she got a co-write on that one.
She got two. We wrote that one, and “Now or Never,” the second track on the album.
This is kinda random but the key of C minor on “Always a Woman” made me wonder: Do you have a favorite key, or one that you end up doing the bulk of your songs in?
I write most of my songs in D and I don’t know why. And I had originally written that song in D minor, but when we got into the studio to record we got to that point in the chorus where you go up, and I couldn’t quite hit it. And when we lowered it, it kind of came alive, got darker.
Staying with random: You recently went skydiving with your mom and daughter. What possessed y’all, and would you do it again?
That was all my mom’s idea. She had originally wanted to do that thing in Vegas where you bungee-jump off of a tower on one of the tall buildings. And later we were together at Christmas and she said something about skydiving, and my daughter wanted to do it with her. So I bought it for my daughter, but every time they tried to go the weather was bad, then my daughter went off to college. She was home a few weeks ago and the weather was perfect. And on the drive over I thought, “When am I ever gonna get to do this again? All three generations are here. This is once in a lifetime.”
Tell me about the moment before you went out the door of the airplane.
It’s the most terrifying and exhilarating thing. On the way up it’s in your head what’s gonna happen, but it’s just indescribable, the way you feel standing in that door. If you’re not afraid looking out, you’re not human. There’s nothing about it that’s natural or normal. You have to try and get it out of your head, and trust the person who’s strapped to your back.
That was the worst moment, because we did a high jump. We were at 14,000 feet. I loved it. But there’s really no way in the world to use words to describe what it feels like.
Would you do it again?
You know, when I first did it I said there was no way – I was glad I did it but wouldn’t do it again. But there are times I find myself thinking about it. I don’t think I’d go out of my way to, but if somebody said, “You wanna go do this,” I think I probably would.
Y’all are doing something kinda neat, a sightseeing, musical bus tour of Switzerland with 40 fans. I’m familiar with musical cruises; is this something y’all came up with, or have others done it?
Courtney and I have gone to Switzerland five years in a row, I think. We have a promoter over there and we love it there. And you can drive from one corner of the country to the other in five hours. But we did something like this last year, with Reckless Kelly and toured Ireland. We were their guests And Courtney and I decided we had to do this in Switzerland. So it’s seven nights and five shows, and we’re personally putting it together, where we’re gonna stay and eat and the venues we’ll play. The response has been great. We’re really excited about it.
I Travel On is out today.
Jul 30, 2018
Jun 13, 2018
It was hard to narrow this down to 25. There have been some truly great and memorable songs released in 2018, and we're just halfway through. These are in no particular order.
*not a combined contributors' list - just Trailer's*
Ashley McBryde - Tired of Being Happy
Lucero - To My Dearest Wife
YOB - Our Raw Heart
Willie Nelson - Something You Get Through
Caitlyn Smith - This Town is Killing Me
Kacey Musgraves - Happy & Sad
Brent Cobb - Mornin's Gonna Come
Kelly Willis - Back Being Blue
Buffalo Gospel - When Lonesome Comes Callin'
Joshua Hedley - Weird Thought Thinker
Lori McKenna - People Get Old
Dallas Moore - Somewhere Between Bridges
Trixie Mattel - Soldier
Blackberry Smoke w/Robert Randolph - I'll Keep Ramblin'
Manchester Orchestra - No Hard Feelings
Pusha T - The Games We Play
Caleb Caudle - NYC in the Rain
Old Crow Medicine Show - Look Away
Erik Dylan - Funerals and Football Games
Brandi Carlile - Sugartooth
Leon III - Alberta
Tami Neilson - Good Man
Whiskey Wolves of the West - Alexandria
Ruby Boots - Break My Heart Twice
May 17, 2018
May 8, 2018
Feb 20, 2018
Some would imagine that the fan-friendly, honest Americana music scene would not be as likely to contain divas and d-bags as the more mainstream genres of music. However, thanks to critic and hipster love for the buzzworthy genre, things have changed of late. This groundswell has slowly created a context wherein all manner of unlikely aspirants are more apt to let their jerk flag fly. Here are some of the genre's most egregious offenders.
10. Brent Cobb
"Forgets" to invite cousin Dave to family functions
Band members only allowed to speak to him by text message
9. Rhiannon Giddens
Borrows band members' phones and logs out of everything
Once put a fan who accidentally called her 'Rihanna' in a triangle choke submission hold
8. Amanda Shires
Wouldn't speak to husband, Jason, for a month when he opposed the name "Taco Lucinda" for their daughter
Performed an entire show of Rob Thomas covers when one crowd was smaller than anticipated
7. Rob Baird
Always eats the middle cinnamon roll out of the pan first
Spends hours a day leaving 1 star iTunes reviews on other Americana artists
Will only autograph thongs
6. Shooter Jennings
Puffs, doesn't pass
Got a secret tip and sold all his Bitcoin to Marilyn Manson just before Bitcoin crashed
Plans to do an all-EDM tour later this year
5. Ward Davis
Secretly bullies Cody Jinks
Still says "Dilly Dilly!"
Keeps telling everybody new music is coming "soon" but it never does
4. Holly Williams
First person to ingest a Tide Pod on video
Can only name 3 Hank Sr. songs
Drives 10 mph below speed limit in left lane
3. Drew Kennedy
Never cleans stations in the gym after using them
Doesn't wash out the sink after beard grooming
Tour rider includes "organic kale candy" and "fitted hemp Phillies cap"
2. Courtney Patton
Spreads rumors about Jamie Lin Wilson on Snapchat
Tells dirty jokes at funerals
Vapes dill pickle flavor at songwriting sessions
1. Paul Thorn
Does the old "replace the vodka with water" trick on his tour bus
Constantly reminds fans he used to be a boxer
Never plays his top 5 songs on Spotify in concert
Always has a few credit card skimmers on hand
Jun 14, 2017
Feb 9, 2017
Jan 13, 2017
By Kevin Broughton
Brent Cobb is an old soul. He’s wise and even-keeled like you’d expect a man twice his 30 years to be. Heck, he sounds old on the phone; his conversational tone matches up with a grizzled roughneck, not the soothing troubadour on Shine On Rainy Day. Critical acclaim poured forth upon the album’s October release, and it finished at a heady No. 4 in the FTM critic’s poll – ahem – no small feat. Our intrepid publisher described perfectly it as “a slow drive down a gravel road on the outskirts of your hometown, with nary a bro in sight.”
And therein lies the irony. Or paradox. Whatever, the bro issue is inescapable in a discussion of Cobb’s musical journey, and it’s evident that the dichotomy puzzles the man himself. Because this guy – who hasn’t needed a day job outside of music for 10 years – has written plenty of songs that bros and their producers have fattened their wallets on. And while Cobb would never say it, the bros and their auto-tuning technicians commit aggravated musical assault on his art, dumbing it down in the pursuit of (a) filthy lucre; and (b) the approval of millions of 80-IQ drones.
Oh, his frustration occasionally bubbles up, but in an understated way in keeping with his gentle temperament. Except that one time two years ago when he went into the studio to vent; that’s when “Yo, Bro” caught the ear of notable outlets like Rolling Stone. (Though, by the way, Cobb sent it to FTM first.) The magazine was one of many platforms to make the obvious comparison of his parody song to the work of one of the reigning bros, who happened to be a friend of Cobb’s. It picked up steam to the point the artist felt compelled to preemptively reach out to the pop star in question. “He asked me,” Cobb said, “whether I was making fun of bros, or if it was something I wanted him to record.”
It’s a stretch to say Cobb has a foot in both camps. It’s indisputable, though, that there’s some overlap because of his personal and professional relationships. It gives him a unique perspective into the critical/commercial contrast, and you won’t find anyone with Cobb’s artistic integrity who has such a realistic window into the tragic dumbing down of country music.
When Jody Rosen coined the term “bro country” three and a half years ago, it cut deep with the thin-skinned millionaires whose songs are confined to beer, trucks and heavy petting with loose women. Jason Aldean – who stares at the orange juice can because it says concentrate – remarked, “It bothers me because I don’t think it’s a compliment.”
“You have no idea,” Cobb says, “how personally they take it. You wouldn’t think it would bother them too bad, since all they have to do is go to the mailbox and pick up a check. I don’t know why it bothers them so much, but it does.”
Brent Cobb may never sleep in piles of money; he’ll also never have to worry about the respect of his peers.
On a Sunday in December, Cobb took a break from singing the Frozen soundtrack with his little girl to talk about songwriting. And the music business. And having a cousin who churns out Grammys for the guys program directors ignore. The “bro” thing may have come up, too.
I’d like to start with a question about tradecraft. For a while you made a living writing songs for other people. Is there a different mindset for writing a song for somebody else? I would imagine you attack it differently, for instance, when the goal is to get a song on mainstream radio.
Well, I got lucky, really. I’m with a great publishing company, Carnival Music, that’s always supported people and let them be their own artists and writers. I can’t imagine being anywhere else. There are a lot of places in town, where you go in and it’s a nine-to-five, and you have to try to write hits and that sort of thing. I’ve never had any of that kind of pressure. And for some reason I’ve gotten lucky enough; the songs I’ve written I’ve always done for myself. And I’ve been fortunate that there have been folks to record them.
About six months before the release of Shine on Rainy Day, there was the compilation from your cousin Dave Cobb, Southern Family. Your song on it, “Down Home,” seems like a preview for the album. Was that a song you’d been working on for a while? Put another way, if Dave hadn’t done the compilation, would that have been the eleventh song on Shine On?
I’m sure it would’ve been, man. It’s funny. I had gotten started on that song and had maybe a half a verse or a full verse. When Dave gave me a call [about the compilation] I knew it would be a perfect fit. But it’s definitely a Sunday in the life of my Southern family. And on my album there’s definitely a lot of that, so yeah, no doubt it would’ve been the eleventh track.
It looks like y’all had a lot of fun recording that one.
Oh, yeah. It was definitely good to get back in the studio with Dave; it had been about 10 years since I’d done that with him. So it was a blast. I’ve said this before, but he kinda produces the way I write. There’s a lot of spur-of-the moment stuff, and if he says, “something doesn’t feel right,” he means from his heart, not technically. And that’s the way I’ve always approached writing songs.
You met your cousin Dave, I believe, when you were about 16. He was an established producer then, but not the big name his is now in the industry. He’s kind of a big deal….
That’s what I’m saying!
…How big an asset is it to have a producer who’s not just blood kin, but the hottest hand in Nashville right now?
Ah, that’s gonna be pretty beneficial. It’s definitely helped me out a lot. When we first met I was 17, and he had produced Put the O Back in Country by Shooter [Jennings], which was one of my favorite records at that time and is still one of my favorites.
And it was funny, man. When I moved up here [Nashville]… well, actually, I moved to L.A. for a minute. I lived in the middle of Hollywood for about four months and went back and forth for about a year and a half. Then I moved back to Georgia, then back to Nashville in March of ’08. And I was looking around trying to find a publishing deal and learning about being a staff writer. And the first thing everybody asks is, “Are you a songwriter or an artist?”
So I would always say, “I thought they were one and the same.” And they said, “Well, we’ve gotta get you a producer.” And I told everybody the same thing, for eight years: I’ve got a cousin who’s a producer, and he’s badass. But folks were a little scared to invest money in someone who’s somebody’s cousin who happens to be a producer. And I didn’t have the money and Dave didn’t have the money, so we sorta did what we had to do there for a second. But now a lot of those naysayers are red in the face, I believe. [Laughs.]
Around the time Something More than Free came out, Jason Isbell talked about the collaborative way he and Dave worked in the studio. Your cousin, he said, had a real knack for knowing where to place a bridge, for example, or whether to start a song with a chorus or a verse. Did you experience a similar chemistry in the studio?
Yeah. Well, definitely on my first album, Dave would structurally set up songs. I was 17 at the time. And there’s still a lot of that because he’s just got such a great instinct for… well, I might think a song is incomplete and he might say, “I think it’s done; let’s just put this little melodic thing at the end.” He’s just fantastic, and that’s why everybody loves him, because he thinks like an artist. Well, he is an artist, not just someone who can afford a bunch of equipment and calls himself a producer.
I imagine he’s as valuable – if not more so – than any great session man.
Yeah! And going back to the staff-writing thing, I approach that the same way Dave does: It’s a collaboration that comes down to “What’s best for the song?”
How long had you been working on this batch of songs? Did you do any writing while in the studio?
Some of them longer than others. Like I said, I’ve always written for myself, so I’ve always had a deep pocketful of songs that kinda lent themselves to this album. But some of them I finished up in the studio in the moment; I might have a melody in mind and I’d say, “What do you think about this one, Dave?” So, a little bit of both.
There’s an uplifting air to this album of yours. There’s sort of a demarcation point, I think, between the first seven and last three songs, but for the most part there’s kind of a contentment running through it. Is this a reflection of your personality and general outlook on life?
I think it has to be. I come from a very musical family, a positive family, a loving family. For me, it’s been a long decade professionally in music and I’ve seen some people come behind me and excel and surpass me. But I’m still rockin’, professionally. I’ve been able to make a living from just music for almost a decade. So I’ve gotta be positive.
The other thing I wanted to show, you know…I’m friends with everybody on both sides of the fence; I can’t really pick a side because I’ve got so many friends on both sides of this invisible wall. My thing is, I wanted to do country music in such a way that just because you’re going beyond scratching the surface and doing something a little deeper, it doesn’t have to be depressing. You can write something that feels good and also has a little more meaning to it, a little more depth.
So that was always in the back of my mind while I was putting this album together. And also – having a two-year-old – I wanted to put something out where if I never did anything else, my daughter could listen to it and say, “Man, that was my daddy’s album!”
|From Brent Cobb's Instagram|
You'd easily fit into the mainstream country neo-traditional revival (artists like Stapleton, William Michael Morgan, Jon Pardi). You've seemingly gone the more straight-Americana/less-commercial route. Was that a business decision, or just staying true to your style and comfort level?
Yeah, it’s just the way I write. If you go the traditional or commercial route, there’s just so many people who have to get involved, and that wouldn’t have been a good representation of what I do. This album is just natural.
And, speaking of the commercial route, let’s talk about an elephant in the room. There are several folks in the “mainstream” camp who’ve recorded your songs. You wrote “Tailgate Blues” and Luke Bryan had a hit with it. (editor’s note: was a popular album cut) It might be hard for folks to reconcile the songs on Shine on Rainy Day with that one. Was that a case of “well, that’s just what the music-listening public wants, so give it to them?”
No, that song was originally written for me. I had a verse or two, and it was originally called “Mossy Blues.” And I would ask people to go and listen to the lyrics of that song * before they made any judgments like, “Oh, he wrote that song for Luke Bryan.” Because – and I don’t really want to be the one to say it – if they listen to it, it’s structurally different. There are some of the same phrasings, but we’re from the same area. But I think you can tell the differences in depth.
And my co-writer, Neil Medley – it was one of the first songs I’d had a co-writer for, and this was about five years ago – he’s the one who said “Let’s call it ‘Tailgate Blues.’”
Well, that was certainly some foresight, right there.
[Laughs]. Isn’t that funny, man? And look, I’m not saying we were the first ones to write about a buzz, or write about a tailgate or crickets and stuff, because we damn sure were not. But during that time period not a lot of people were saying that stuff. And then, about a year or so after that…[laughs].
What’s more likely to happen: Brent Cobb writing another song about a truck, or Luke Bryan covering “Down in the Gulley?”
Luke would do Down in the Gulley.
Yeah, but would you want him to? Wait. You don’t have to answer that.
Of course I would! I want everybody to do whatever they want to do. Wouldn’t it be cool to hear Luke do Down in the Gully? That would probably change everything.
Well, it would help your bottom line, no doubt… So, you apparently dipped your toe into satire and wrote something called “Yo, Bro.”
[Laughs] Aw, I should’ve sent that to you.
I’d love to hear it, but I can’t, since all traces of it have disappeared from the Internet. Can you clear up this mystery?
Ah, well…For about four or five years, I averaged doing about 120 dates a year, and when we found out we were having our baby, I decided I’d leave the road and just focus on songwriting. And during that time, it was at the height, the peak really, of the bro country movement, and I couldn’t get anybody to listen to any of my songs.
So I got kinda pissed off. And what happened…I won’t say any names, but I had a couple folks who are kinda high up – Luke WAS NOT one of them – a couple folks in that camp told me, “Man if you could just write some stuff that leaned that way, you could probably have a lot of success.” And it really bothered me because it ain’t that I can’t do that; I just don’t do that.
I decided to write something that was that style of song, and I wanted to do it better than they can write their own style of song. [Pauses] Against them. As a matter of fact, Neil Medley – the same guy who co-wrote “Tailgate” – that’s who I wrote “Yo, Bro” with. And it worked.** [Laughs] It did a lot of what I thought it would do; I figured it would go over a lot of the bro fans’ heads…
That’s not a very high bar, Brent…
And later they were like, “Wait, I think he’s making fun of us, but it doesn’t matter because it sounds so cool.” What I didn’t expect to happen was that a lot of the more traditional fans – I expected them to get the joke – but it kinda backfired on me and said, “Aw, he’s a bro hatin’ on bros.”
[Howls with laughter]…
Yeah, that’s what happened. So, I pulled it off the Internet. Someday I’ll put it back out there, but I took it off before I put this record out because I didn’t want people to be confused and not get the joke. Luckily we’ve got folks like [Trailer] and ole Trigger (Saving Country Music) who do get the joke. But a lot of folks didn’t, so I just didn’t want to deal with that.
Back to Southern Family for a second: It’s become a cliché, what with the mainstream country bros checking all the boxes (trucks, dirt roads, etc.) to show they’re authentically rural on all their songs. On “Down Home,” you touch all the bases yourself, yet it’s valid on its face. Did you write that song as sort of an ironic wink at the bro template?
Nah, I didn’t really think of it that way. The thing is, I’m friends with some of those guys. There was one time we were sitting around in the writing room writing a song, and I had this really cool idea. Where I grew up my grandpa had a junkyard. He had a hundred acres that my great-grandpa bought for a dollar an acre after World War I, and on one part of it was this junkyard.
So I had this idea about how things rust away in a junkyard, but it can still be beautiful; a really rural song, you know? So this one guy – and man this is one of the top dudes, and again I’m not gonna say any names. He says, “Well, does that pass the Bubba test?” I asked him what the “Bubba test” was. “As in Bubba back home; is he gonna get it?”
It bothered me so much. And I was a young buck, just a low man on the [Nashville] totem pole. I told the guy, “Well, I don’t think we’re gonna be able to write anything together. Ever.” And I just got up and walked out. Who knows; maybe if I hadn’t walked out I could’ve had a bunch of bro hits. [Laughs] But it just bothers me, man. It’s an epidemic, and what I don’t understand is, those guys are from there (the rural South.) They know that things are deeper. I don’t know whose fault it is, whether it’s the fans of that music; I don’t know if it’s the record labels, or the radio, or if it’s just people getting there and selling where they’re from short. I don’t know whose problem it is. But it’s unfortunate, because it’s much richer, where we’re all from.
Yeah. As a lifelong Southerner, it chaps me when in the movies, for example, every Southerner is gonna be a dumb yokel…
…and these guys, they’re reinforcing that stereotype and lining their pockets. And now they’ve added an element of soft-core porn to it, singing about trying to get in some skank’s pants…
…and it’s not healthy.
You know, I hate to name-drop because I know these guys and they’re all heroes of mine. But my wife and I were talking about this the other day. Guys like Kristofferson and Willie, when they talked about a woman, it was so romantic. They did it in a way that was just beautiful, man. You can still do that, dammit. It’s the same way with movies, too. I love the movie Dazed and Confused; it’s funny because it’s real-life, not over the top. What’s happening in all genres of music, not just country, is that it’s over the top and exploitative of whatever the truth is.
Lastly, are you doing any new writing, or is that something that’s perpetual for you? And have you thought about what you might do for your next album?
I have thought about it and I’m really excited about doing the next album. It won’t stray too far from where I am already, though.
Cobb will play a few dates late this month in the U.K., then come home for an extensive tour with Nikki Lane in February. Catch him when you can.
* Seriously, go listen. He’s right, and it’s a great song. When sung by Brent Cobb, of course.
** Oh, man, does it ever work. Since the interview, your humble correspondent received a copy from the artist on the condition of not circulating it. It is brilliant.