Brent Cobb Steps Back Into the Spotlight With 'Shine on Rainy Day'

Don VanCleave
Brent Cobb

When Brent Cobb's second album, Shine On Rainy Day, hits shelves on Friday, it'll be almost exactly a decade after he released his debut, No Place Left to Leave. "You always hear in this industry it takes ten years to be an overnight success," Brent tells Billboard. "I feel like the kid journalist in Almost Famous. I don't know how I keep happening to land into these opportunities."

Brent rolls two common career paths into one trajectory. In many ways, Shine On Rainy Day represents the culmination of a classic Nashville story, the kind of thing that you see in TV shows -- a songwriter moves to Music City from a small southern locale (Brent pegs the population of his hometown at 1609), lands a writing deal, places songs with stars, and eventually is allowed to step out on his own. But early in his career, Brent was an out-of-the-blue arrival, plucked out of Georgia and pulled to L.A. by his cousin Dave Cobb and the singer Shooter Jennings to record an album, only to return home and start all over again.

Though Cobb's career has had twists and turns, his songs have always perked ears -- they're loose but detailed, funky, funny. In the last five years, he's placed tunes with various singers in Nashville: David Nail cut a gospel-rock infused "Grandpa's Farm," "Rockaway (The Rockin' Chair Song)" was a shiny highlight on Kellie Pickler's 100 Proof, and Miranda Lambert used the goofy, bare-bones "Old Shit" as a moment of levity on Platinum

A Brent demo also grabbed Dave's attention several years earlier, after Brent handed it off at a family funeral. Two days later, Brent picked up the phone to find Dave on the other end along with Jennings, whom Dave was producing at the time. (Jennings' father Waylon is a country music legend.) "They wanted to fly me to L.A. and get to working on that first record," Brent remembers. "It floored me."

Brent calls his time in L.A. "a huge culture shock. There was a drive-by that took place, I had this guy try to carjack me, there was an earthquake, and it only rained once." He enjoyed recording with Dave, though. "He produces the way that I write songs, which is real spontaneous," Brent explains. "When he says something doesn't feel right, he doesn't mean technically. He means in your heart." 

But No Place Left To Leave didn't catch fire in the way Brent hoped. "I was so reluctant to move to L.A., the iron sort of died down a little," he explains. Dave didn't yet have the spotlight he would acquire after producing breakout acts like Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton; the Americana movement, which might have embraced Brent, wasn't as well-organized as it now; the music press paid little attention to country.

Brent was having better luck back in Georgia, where his local band opened for Luke Bryan, from nearby Leesburg. Brent passed Bryan a copy of No Place Left To Leave, which earned him an invitation to Nashville. After a year, during which he worked at Walgreens as a photo specialist, Brent landed a writing deal with Carnival Music. He accumulated several placements with prominent singers, and he also started putting together a solo EP.

He found the recording experience frustrating compared to his memories of working with Dave on his debut -- "this isn't how it's supposed to sound," he remembers thinking -- but he released that EP and hit the road, playing an estimated 120 dates a year. Listeners seemed to agree with Brent's personal assessment of the project. "We weren't getting much momentum, and I found out that I was having a baby," Brent recalls. "I sort of called it off. I didn't know when I'd be back, if ever."

But Dave reeled him in once again, enlisting his help with a compilation album based around singer/songwriters telling stories about their relatives. Brent enjoys explaining how Dave recruited him: "He says, 'I've been working on this concept album called Southern Family, and I thought it would only be appropriate for me to call my own bitch-ass southern cousin to be a part of it.'"

During their time working on Southern Family, Brent and Dave decided to take another crack at cutting an album together. Shine On Rainy Day came together in roughly four days; it's set on front porches and southern highways, in a world where birds laugh on fence posts and the night sky houses Old Man Moon. On the title track, Brent's pal asks him, "Have you heard of a happy song?"  Brent's reply -- "Laughing ain't a present until you know about crying" -- is an assertion of a traditional country strength: tears-in-your-beer ballads. But Brent's a laid back narrator, easygoing even when forlorn, and the instrumentation follows his nonchalant lead.

The album's final song, "Black Crow," is narrated from the perspective of a former prisoner, but it also seems to hint at the singer's redoubled commitment to his own career path. "I ain't been staying up late, making folks wait like I done before," Brent sings. "For me to get on the track, make up for what I lack/ Black crow, I ain't a joke no more."

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