With his 2020 album Starting Over, Chris Stapleton demonstrates just maybe there is still hope for country music of the major label variety. Whereas Stapleton’s excellent new one holds tightly to the traditional side of country music equation, the thinking here is it’s more of an anomaly and country will stay the course on the road to pop-ville. Then again, the album did debut at the number one position on the Billboard country album charts in the first week of release, so obviously the traditional side of the genre is still resonating to people somewhere. Simply put, it is an album highly worthy of ears and receives the Ear Bliss look-see this week along with the latest album from Americana country cat Brent Cobb. Keep ‘Em On They Toes is the name of Cobb’s latest. His first album since relocating back to his native Georgia after stints in Nashville and Los Angeles, it is a reflective affair about his thoughts and feelings about both his own life and what he’s sees going on in the world. Let’s get to it.
There’s always been a kind of walk softly and carry a big stick side to the music of country artist Chris Stapleton. A burly and intimidating looking fellow in pictures what with his big beard and heavy clothing, on the “walk softly” side of things he can write and deliver a tender ballad in singer/songwriter style as good as anyone in the business. He does it to perfection on multiple occasions on his latest album called Starting Over. Try to resist fawning over love songs like the self-reflective “When I’m With You,” “Maggie’s Song” (about a favorite dog set to a melody that borrows liberally from The Band’s song “The Weight”) and especially the resplendent title track (and first single from the album) with its sweet and simple melody and featuring Stapleton’s wife Morgane on harmonies. Cuts like these demonstrate Stapleton’s uncanny lyrical ability to tug at the heartstrings time and again. As sensitive in song Stapleton can get, he’s also got an outlaw side to his oeuvre. This is the “big stick” side of the equation where he gets his electric guitar in gear and can deliver a Southern rock wallop like few others. Muscular numbers like “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice,” “Hillbilly Blood,” the full-tilt rocker “Arkansas,” and the monstrous “Watch You Burn” prove it to perfection. Albums nowadays seem to hover around the 10 or even nine-song max, however, the generous Stapleton goes the extra yard on Starting Over offering a meaty 14 tracks including some cherry-picked covers from a few of his favorite tunesmiths. This includes two songs from the late and great Guy Clark (“Worry Be Gone” which gets a righteously country rockin’ treatment and the wonderful “Old Friends” again featuring striking harmony work between Stapleton and his wife) and John Fogerty (“Joy of My Life’). Starting Over found the Kentucky-born Stapleton once again returning to Nashville’s historic RCA Studio A to work with the Grammy award-winning producer Dave Cobb. The two have developed an excellent chemistry over the course of multiple albums which is once again clearly on display on Starting Over which Stapleton describes as an album of songs that examine life’s simplest joys and most serious struggles, and all to perfection, I might add. Recommended.
Keep ‘Em On They Toes
Ol’ Buddy Records
For his fourth album called Keep ‘Em On They Toes, the country singer and songwriter Brent Cobb strips it down on the sound front allowing a bit more breathing room for his lyrics and message. Much like the Stapleton album reviewed above, Cobb’s songs also head off in a reflective direction with his views on the world as he sees it nowadays. “My last couple of albums have been about people and places, and I wanted this album to be about thoughts and feelings,” he says. “I think it’s pretty easy to look around and see what’s going on in the world. With my heroes and the people that I listen to, it seems like the natural progression for me,” he explains. The follow-up to his excellent and Grammy-nominated 2016 album Shine On Rainy Day, the recent Keep ‘Em On They Toes is Cobb’s first album since relocating back to his native Georgia after time spent moving between Nashville and Los Angeles. Cobb’s likeable and twangy tenor voice is in fine form across the 10 songs comprising the album as he opines on first-hand topics ranging from the back and forth between artists and their social media followers (the standout “Shut Up and Sing”) to confronting the obligations of adulthood with a touch of humor (“Sometimes I’m a Clown”) to finding enjoyment in some of the simple things in life (“Little Stuff”) to the cool sounds of the pepped-up “Soap Box” which Cobb wrote with his father and features Nikki Lane singing harmony. There’s a maturity in these songs showing both an artist comfortable in his skin and his place in music. Keep ‘Em On They Toes is a solid record and it bodes well for even better things to come. Visit www.brentcobbmusic.com.
With the holidays now behind us but COVID cases continuing their upswing, in-person live music events are few and far between in these parts at this moment with many venues opting to do live streams that can be viewed from the safety of your home. Locally these venues include the Courthouse Center for the Arts in West Kingston, The Greenwich Odeum in East Greenwich, the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, MA, and the Stadium Theater in Woonsocket. Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band Sons of Skynyrd Band perform at the Courthouse Center for the Arts on Saturday evening at 8 pm. Check out the CCFTA’s web site at www.courthousearts.org for full details. The Narrows Center for the Arts continues its live streaming events on Friday evening with The Beehive Queen herself, Christine Ohlman, and her band Rebel Montez performing direct from the Narrows stage beginning at 8 pm. Check the Narrows web site at www.narrowscenter.showare.com for details. The Stadium Theatre’s next event is a live performance on January 16 with David Clark’s “Billy Joel Experience - Songs In The Attic” performing two shows at 5 and 8 pm. Visit the venue’s web site at www.stadiumtheatre.com for details. As far as the other aforementioned venues are concerned, your best bet to find out the latest news is to check their respective web sites or Facebook pages. There also continues to be a steady flow of artists and venues streaming live music. One of the best sources for information on live streaming events is the web site Bandsintown (www.bandsintown.com). Other platforms offering streaming are Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram. Some venues offering live streaming performances worth checking out include Signature Sounds Records’ “Parlor Room Home Sessions” which live streams on most Thursday evenings, Americana Highways, and Outpost in the Burbs. Locally, Mark Cutler hits the Facebook Live stage every Wednesday evening with a show from his home at 7 pm.
Dan Ferguson is a freelance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.