Brent Cobb is one mixed up guy. He proclaims the importance of taking a stand on “Shut Up and Sing” and says he’s not worried about alienating listeners who disagree with his perspectives on important issues. In the video for this song, Cobb references Bruce Springsteen. Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and others whose songs took strong views against the injustices they observed in their society. Yet on another track, “Soap Box”, Cobb announces that he “don’t talk politics” and “let’s get off the soapbox and get along”. Here he preaches the opposite message, which ironically is that music shouldn’t have messages and that we all need to get along.
Or perhaps it’s just Cobb’s strategy to confuse us. After all, the name of his latest album is Keep ‘Em on They Toes. The title cut concerns the importance of being true to oneself and, consequently, the importance of confusing others. People will drive you crazy and distract you from following your heart if you let them. Cobb’s intent is not to be misunderstood too quickly. He delivers this idea with his tongue in cheek. Cobb knows he’s being funny and understands the truth that can be best conveyed in humor.
His is a dry wit, which fits with this understated vocal style. He frequently sings in a quiet voice while annunciating every word. On “Sometimes I’m a Clown”, Cobb uses jester terminology as metaphors for the most crucial aspects of living one’s life: the love between two people, raising children, working for lousy wages, and being unable to pay the bills, and such. “The punch line’s funny until you choke,” Cobb sings. He may be flying right out the cannon into the dirt, but who needs a safety net if one has a loving family. His humor comes from a sincere place.
Cobb’s motto is one of tolerance and self-reliance, as described succinctly in “Don’t Sweep Your Dust Under My Rug”. Cobb pays his bills, smokes and eats whatever he likes, and will respect your boundaries as he expects you to do for him. That’s the golden rule, but he sings it with the promise of vengeance if you mess with him. He’s not one to turn the other cheek.
While this is a country record with appropriate instruments making themselves known as needed (banjo, fiddle, mandolin)—not to mention the twang in Cobb’s voice—it has a distinct soft rock feel. Critics have labeled Cobb an Americana artist—that middle ground where country and rock often meet. He earned nominations for Best Americana Album at the 60th Grammy Awards and Emerging Artist of the Year at the 2017 Americana Awards. This album will undoubtedly win him more accolades because of its literate lyrics, catchy instrumental hooks, and friendly vocal delivery.
Keep ‘Em on They Toes lives up to its title of being neither pure this nor that. Cobb may be hard to pin down, and that’s the point. His music works to bring people together by reminding us of our unique individuality, and the things that bind us together are all part of the same gestalt. We are alone together.