In a year that seems like absolute carnage, whether it be civil unrest, politics or pandemic, it feels fitting that someone like Brent Cobb should release new music. Those who are fans of his work, particularly his Shine on Rainy Day album, will know him for his melancholy, rootsy sound. Those who know him on social media will know he’s not afraid to speak up for what he thinks is right.
Keep ‘Em On They Toes follows the release of the title track and Shut Up and Sing in previous weeks. The title track kicks off proceedings with Brent stripping things down to him and his guitar. Lyrically, it’s a strong statement about people who’ll “tell you how to live, tell you how to die” as Brent advises “if you ever grow up, try to stay that why”. It’s almost like a peaceful protest song, lyrically packing a punch whilst Brent sings like he’s sat on his porch.
Shut Up and Sing, perhaps one of the most frustrating phrases an artist will read on social media. Cobb’s good friend Chris Stapleton just took a load of it after supporting the BLM movement. In this song, Cobb doesn’t hold back, he sings “there’s poison in our rhetoric and bullets in our schools”. For those who’ve met Cobb, they’ll know him to be a peaceful man, and anyone who heard this without listening to the lyrics might believe that. But this is a big middle finger and a rallying cry to those in the music industry to speak louder and prouder.
Good Times and Good Love is a country two stepper that reminds you how comforting Cobb’s down-home voice can be. The introduction of a fiddle helps make this song pure escapism. The message is simple, good times don’t always last so get together with the person you love and be happy. Maybe not the people you love right now, but let’s hope for that in 2021, hey?
One common thread with this album is how Brent Cobb makes the world burning somehow feel OK. Sometimes I’m a Clown is an autobiographical song where Cobb cries “the future ain’t no joke, the days just don’t slow down”. Throughout it all, he remembers that his daughter is the thing that makes it all worthwhile “the baby is the daisy in the front pocket of my shirt”.
The great thing about this type of ‘down home’ country is that you can take the lyrics at face value or get lost in the country scene that’s created. This Side of the River might have a message to it, but in these four and a half minutes, you can become lost in a sunny day by the river, where the world’s worries melt away, as gentle and soothing as anything you’ve heard in a while.
Dust Under My Rug picks things up a little for a toe tapping country jaunt. Lyrically it’s all about living your own life and not dragging others down with your crap. You get the feeling Cobb has spent some time watching the world around him and it’s inspired this collection of songs, it’s almost like the southern guide to living life well.
Soapbox reminds me of Hayes Carll’s Hard Out Here, in fact the chorus is almost exactly the same. Coincidental I’m sure, but it’s a great song. Another positive sounding look at a world where things are going crazy and it’s sending the people the same way. Cobb sings “Well the crowd goes crazy when catastrophe strikes, Nobody’s feelings seem to come out right”. Never has such a sentiment been truer. There’s a great piano and fiddle break in this one that gives the feel of a bar band jamming out. Great fun song.
There’s plenty of time spent denouncing the state of things on this record, but When You Go is the rallying cry for us all to come together and do the right thing. The chorus of “I’m right, you’re right, We’re all wrong, Come together fore it’s all gone” suggests that we’re all so wrapped up in judging each other’s views that we’ve gone the wrong way. Maybe listening to each other and respecting each other more would be a better fix for the world.
I have to admit that when The World is Ending was released earlier this year, I was a little dubious. We were all anxious and scared, to me the timing felt a little… Off. A little sprinkle of horns and strings (it might even be slide guitar drenched into reverb and echo, but it certainly has that effect) gives this song a dark countrypolitan feel. The message of the song is quite nice, everyone denouncing their sins in fear of the end but Cobb sits in his chair thinking of women with his head in the clouds.
The record ends with Little Stuff. A fitting ending to the album, it takes us back on a peaceful day in the country with Cobb. As we meander along, he reminds us of the important things in life, he sits and watches the sunset and reminds us to keep close to “all the good folks that you love”. We all needed this message right now.
As an album, Keep ‘Em On They Toes is a step back from Providence Canyon, that more rocky sound that Cobb got together for the last album slips back to the laidback feel of Shine On Rainy Day, this whole record makes the listener feel like they have an audience with Cobb as he shares his wisdom. In a year where we’ve all watched our politicians tell us to stay home, reading daily death counts and more, whilst we see police officers commit murder and walk away, it’s often felt like we need time to just switch off. Keep ‘Em On They Toes does just that. Kick your shoes off, sit on Cobb’s porch and let him talk.
1. Keep ‘Em On They Toes
2. Shut Up and Sing
3. Good Time and Good Love
4. Sometimes I’m a Clown
5. This Side of the River
6. Dust Under My Rug
8. When You Go
9. The World is Ending
10. Little Stuff
Six Shooter Rating
8.5 out of 10