Cousin of producer Dave Cobb, Keep ‘Em On They Toes is Brent’s fourth album, one on which he says is more about thoughts and feelings than people and places. It’s also got quite a playful tone in places, especially on the title track opener, a co-write with his wife designed as imparting downhome wisdom to their newborn son as he sings “They try to tell you how to live/They try to tell you how to die/They tell you don’t get too low, but don’t get too high/The best thing you can do is don’t listen too close/Walk on to your own beat”.
There’s an equally light touch to a serious message on the slow walking beat and strings-laced soulful ‘Sometimes I’m A Clown’, a song about being a family and trying to make ends meet (“She works a job, I work another/Too rich to be broke, too broke to be covered/In case of an emergency”), smiling through and,even though “the punch line’s funny ‘till you choke”, “this rat in the wheel is still in the race”.
As with the title track, other songs speak about people trying to interfere in and tell you how to live your life, case in point being the blues shuffle of ‘Dust Under My Rug’ (“Don’t hang your laundry on my line/Don’t drag my name through your mud”) featuring Cobb on mandolin and Phil Cook on banjo with Mike Harris laying down electric guitar as he warns “I pay my debt the way I want to/And I feed my babies when they cry/What I’m smoking don’t concern you”.
As such, the stand out comes with the drum thump, swampy southern vibe of Southern ‘Shut Up And Sing’, a fiddle-accompanied poke that those who reckon musicians and politics shouldn’t mix (“I was told not long ago that I can’t talk the way I do/Singers shouldn’t share their current affairs or worldly views/Sayin’ something off the wall just might bend folks outta shape/Hard workin’ people spend their paychecks to show up and escape”), declaring that that while “There’s poison in our rhetoric and bullets in our schools…I’ll sing what the hell is going on around here”, because “Songs got ways of going places folks have never been/From one side of the world, round and round and back again”.
Conversely, perhaps, on the lazingly strummed jug band feel of ‘Soap Box’, co-written with his father, Patrick, and featuring Nikki Lane on vocals, piano, fiddle and tuba, he says “I don’t preach no tricks, don’t talk politics/I’m just a casual singer holding my stones and my sticks” and how we should all get off the soap box, although the underlying message is that, if just learnt to get along, then there’s be no need to get up on one in the first place and he could just shut up and sing.
Elsewhere, ‘Good Times And Good Lovin’’ is a straight down the line honky tonk waltzer written with Luke Bryan, a fellow Georgia boy he knew from his time in Nashville, who also handles the piano solo, and ‘This Side Of The River’ has an easy rolling country pace as he reflects on enjoying his life as it is (“On this side of the river/It’s warm and cozy, neighbors ain’t nosy/It’s where I grew up”) even with its hidden currents, rather than wondering how green the grass is on the other side.
‘When You Go’ is the album’s sparsest moment, a banjo-flecked blues number about focusing on what’s important and not the small stuff while you’re here, which perhaps naturally leads into the similarly folk blues coloured ‘The World Is Ending’, a song dating back to 2011 and inspired by apocalyptic predictions revolving around the end of the Mayan calendar, though the lines “If the creek don’t rise and the good Lord’s willin’ any how/Might be time to clean house” clearly have an ironic currency.
It ends in fingerpicking mode with ‘Little Stuff’, bringing it back to focusing on enjoying the simple things in life , ignoring the rain, casing the rainbow catching a few fish and keeping “a tight grip on all the good folks that you love” because “there’s a lot of truth in all that little stuff” and, really, “Ain’t that enough?” It’ll do just fine.
Artist’s website: www.brentcobbmusic.com
‘Shut Up And Sing’ – official video: