In 2017, Brent Cobb was in Arizona touring with fellow country troubadour Jamey Johnson. After his opening set, the relatively unknown Cobb was hanging outside in the dirt parking lot with his wife, Layne. Underneath desert stars lit up like a chandelier, the two ran into a priest who crafted rosaries, telling them he “doesn’t know who they’re for until God lets me know.” He gave one to Cobb, who then hung it from his truck’s rear-view mirror.
Three years later, this past July, Cobb was in the same truck with his toddler son, Tuck, when they were T-boned on the driver’s side by a car that blew through an intersection near their home in South Georgia. Cobb broke his collarbone and tore a ligament in his back, but Tuck emerged unscathed. When Cobb went to fetch items from the truck, the rosary had broken, and the cross had landed just below Tuck’s car seat. “I mean, I don’t want to get too out there on you,” Cobb says in his molasses-thick drawl. “But the accident could have been a lot worse. I need to find Father Matthew and have him make me a new one.”
Cobb puts plenty of stock in the mystical and in the symbolism of life-changing events. This from a man who freely admits to eating a good amount of psychedelic mushrooms in the run-up to the release of his mesmerizing new album, Keep ’Em on They Toes. “I have had a couple of life-altering experiences after eating mushrooms,” he says. “That being said, I’ve had the same feelings praying to God when sober.”
A South Georgia native, Cobb recently moved back to the area with his family after spending years in Los Angeles and Nashville, where he cowrote hits for the likes of Luke Bryan and Miranda Lambert. He released his major-label debut, Shine On Rainy Day, in 2016, showcasing a knack for melody and vivid lyricism that earned him a Grammy nomination and took him to the upper echelons of Nashville songwriters. That album and Cobb’s fantastic 2018 swamp funk follow-up, Providence Canyon—both produced by top Nashville producer Dave Cobb, his cousin—are filled with evocative snapshots of things he missed from country life: hunting, fishing, and meeting the old-timers at the gas station for a cup of coffee.
The new material gently but firmly stakes out more personal and topical terrain. But it’s never brash or confrontational. If anything, it sometimes lets the listener off easy. “Soap Box,” a shuffling piano duet with the Nashville singer Nikki Lane, asks people to “get along,” while the sparse, mournful “When You Go” digs deeper, with Cobb lamenting family members who pass the mashed potatoes around the table but take their differences to the grave.
The delicate title track is a message to his newborn son about walking to his own beat. And in the ironically titled, harmonica-fueled romp “Shut Up and Sing,” Cobb defiantly lays out his job as a songwriter. “Every album I do I have the mindset that if I died the day after it came out and it was the only thing my kids would ever have, who would I be to them?” he says. “The last two albums said, ‘This is where I came from’ and ‘This is what I care about.’ The new one is how Daddy feels about things.”
Cobb cowrote those two songs with his wife, who, before their son was born, worked as a pharmacist. Occasionally, when the couple can pawn off Tuck and his six-year-old sister, Lyla, onto their grandparents, they’ll relax on the porch trading lyrics. Family is paramount to Cobb, something that resonates even more deeply after the truck accident. He’s taken to waking up early with the kids, grabbing coffee, and walking down to a nearby lake, where his daughter has become obsessed with fishing. “She’s got the fever,” he says proudly. Afterward, they sometimes take long strolls in the woods. “I never wanted to leave Georgia in the first place, and I was gone for twelve years. All the things I had been missing I can now experience every day.”