Amid the mass of definitions that subdivide country music, a new one on me is “Country Funk”. Impeding my efforts to grapple with a definition were grotesque images blurring stetsons with sequinned flares and cowboy boots with six inch platforms. Stop! Instead, listen to Brent Cobb, who describes his new album, Providence Canyon as “Country Funk”.
The album certainly does have a distinctly confident groove that’s neither too fast nor too slow. It also contains elements of pure country, southern rock and perhaps best pf all, the swamp music of the 1960s and 1970s. Think Tony Joe White, Larry Jon Wilson or Delbert McClinton. For those of us of a certain age who came to country via the “Country Rock” route there is a bit of West Coast, Flying Burritos and from the south there are definitely strains of the legendary Dickey Betts of Allman Brothers fame.
Brent Cobb has taken these influences to fuse his own original style that defies today’s rigid categorisation. And kudos for that too. But what particularly stands out in this album is place; wherever Cobb finds himself he seems to gravitate back to home and the deep roots that he will never pull up.
The first, and title track is just that. Providence Canyon State Park is a short drive from Cobb’s home town of Ellaville, Georgia. It’s where he and his buddies would hang out with a few beers and other bits and bobs and just listening to the song Providence Canyon makes you feel you’re there too. A lovely pedal steel opens straight from the 1970s, Cobb’s singing is relaxed and could even be from another canyon, Laurel. “Whaddya say we all go down to Providence Canyon?/Carve our names in the side of a red clay wall?/I got the wheel, somebody play an old song”. Yet it’s not pure nostalgia, “That reminds us we’re still young/The night won’t last forever, after all” as the pedal steel takes us out.
A stark contrast follows immediately. ‘King of Alabama’ is a tribute to Cobb’s mentor, Wayne Mills, who was shot dead while playing with his band in a Nashville bar. “The King of Alabama has gone home”. Guns recur in ‘.30-06’, a low, swampy warning to someone “messin’ around with another man’s woman”, “Don’t cross that line/Or you’re gonna get nixed/With a .30-06”. This is probably a Brit’s view, but there is something rather depressing about how both songs give a sense of acceptance a kind of this is how things are done here. The accompanying slide licks give the latter a very Lynyrd Skynyrd ‘Saturday Night Special’ feel.
Still, Cobb is only telling of what goes on I suppose. Where he excels is in conveying his love of home. ‘Come Home Soon’ is almost a lament for his Georgia home, sung from the road in Colorado. The blend of electric and acoustic could almost be Cobb’s tears before he finally drinks himself into oblivion.
Cobb’s affirms his love for his surroundings in ‘High in the Country’. He couldn’t care less if he hasn’t become a doctor or lawyer because he’d rather be “High in the country/Where the skies are blue/High in the country/Where I dream of you” Further shades of Skynyrd?
The funk bit really takes centre stage with ‘Mornin’s Gonna Come’, that reveals Cobb’s hard living, hard loving, hard drinking side. The way he almost recites the opening lines gives the song greater menace. Vocally ‘Ain’t A Road Too Long’ opens in similar style while the guitars duel in true southern rock fashion. ‘Sucker For A Good Time’ need little elaboration. It’s certainly at the rockier end of Cobb’s spectrum taking him closer to The Cadillac Three perhaps,
Cousin Dave Cobb’s production is a big contributor to the album’s sweep of styles and in carving Brent’s own niche. The swamp feel, not letting the rockers get out of control and above all bringing out Brent’s voice. ‘When The Dust Settles” seems the best example of the “funk”, but then isn’t that honky tonk? Who cares.
Whatever it’s called, Providence Canyon spans a lot of southern gullies and crevices. Touring with Chris Stapleton and Willie Nelson has left its mark but Brent Cobb is his own man and he has most certainly carved his name on this particular wall.