When the Dave Cobb produced compilation Southern Family was first announced, I was expecting an album of Southern songs by a family of artists. This album title was chosen well, however, as both aspects of the title are front and center. The music is distinctly southern. The theme is distinctly family-oriented. This album takes different points of view and explores various aspects of the family dynamic. From the first note to the closing, this album takes you back to your youth and creates an introspective glance at what makes a family. This is what a concept album is supposed to look like.
Just getting a new Dave Cobb record is a treat by itself. The guy has been behind the scenes in many of the best albums of the past two years, so everything he touches is sure to turn to gold. Also, getting this all-star cast together is fantastic by itself. Shooter Jennings, Miranda Lambert, Jason Isbell, some dude named Chris Stapleton… But, you put these two dynamics together and it’s almost too good to be true. The album hits many different points of view about what it means to be a family, from the sweet musings of advice from Miranda Lambert in “Sweet By And By” to the ode to the blue collar type “God Is A Working Man” by Jason Isbell. Jamey Johnson also gives us a sentimental look at his “Mama’s Table”, one of the best written songs in the bunch. One of my very favorites is “Settle Down” by Holly Williams. This is partially because I love Holly and everything she does is fantastic, but mostly because it is a well done song that fits her smoky voice perfectly. I am beyond excited to see what Dave Cobb can cook up with her for her next album. The absolutely haunting “I Cried” by Brandy Clark is pure storytelling and emotion at its finest.
The album not only captures the feeling of family, it captures the vibe of southern music. Obviously you have the traditional country sound on a song like “Grandma’s Garden” by Zac Brown (in a nice return to form by him, I might add), but also you see the other sides of southern music. “A Simple Song” by John Paul White captures the folksy side of the south. “Learning” by roots rocker Anderson East displays the big band sound that other modern bands like Alabama Shakes have brought to the forefront. Shooter Jennings livens things up with the rowdy stomp “Can You Come Over?” that is an absolute blast to listen to. Of course, the blues side is taken care of by Morgane Stapleton with her husband Chris on harmony for their rendition of “You Are My Sunshine”. It’s pretty amazing that on an album full of new songs, the cover sounds the most original. Morgane and Chris perfectly complement each other and capture the moodiness and sorrow of the song. Many regard it as a happy love song, but a closer look at the lyrics show that it is much darker. The husband and wife power duo bring out that darkness and perform some mesmerizing vocal acrobatics along the way.
While Chris Stapleton has been in the headlines for much of the last calendar year in country music, behind the scenes Dave Cobb has been the man making things happen. He is a producer at the absolute top of his game right now, making some of the best music in the business. The idea of the concept album is something that we may not see much of anymore as labels value singles over albums and streaming replaces physical copies. Southern Family is an album that is a strong addition to the concept album tradition, a great representation of different themes, and a real joy to listen to. Dave Cobb continues to raise the bar with everything he touches.
Standout Tracks: "You Are My Sunshine"-Morgane Stapleton & Chris Stapleton, "Sweet By And By" -Miranda Lambert, "Can You Come Over"-Shooter Jennings, "Settle Down"- Holly Williams, "I Cried"- Brandy Clark, "Mama's Table" -Jamey Johnson
"You Are My Sunshine" -Morgane Stapleton and Chris Stapleton
"Sweet By And By" -Miranda Lambert
"Can You Come Over" -Shooter Jennings
"Settle Down" -Holly Williams
"Learning" -Anderson East