Exploring the Southern Family album

Lisa Gansky from New York, NY, USA

 

Southern Family is an album where Dave Cobb – best known for his role as a producer for some of Americana music's best, including Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell – gathers together some of his past production subjects (and a few new collaborators) and produces a theme album of sorts. Many of these songs touch upon subjects that relate to either being Southern or family or both.

 

In a few cases, artists on this collection draw upon vivid family memories.

Zac Brown sings about how his grandma used her garden in “Grandma's Garden” as a metaphor for family. Brown sings it as though he's just now discovering the hidden messages in his grandma's gardening talk. Jamey Johnson sings about his mothers table with “Mama's Table” as though this large wooden centerpiece was some kind of sacred monument. And to Johnson and his family, it truly was just that.

 

The most of these participants are better known in the Americana world, rather than the mainstream country realm. Zac Brown is one exception, and Miranda Lambert is another one. Lambert brings to mind her big early hit ballad “The House that Built Me” with “Sweet By and By” when she sings, “Family's the light that guides us.” With its lyrics, she mixes in childhood memories with snippets of wise sayings and scriptural references. These memories make up the house that built Lambert, just as much as her old family home did.

 

Country and folk styles dominate the sonic of this collection. There are some tracks, though, that step away from such acoustic arrangements. Chris Stapleton's version of “You Are My Sunshine,” which he sings as a duet with his wife Morgane, has become a staple in his live shows. With its dark, electric guitar accompaniment, it is transformed into something closer to a spooky blues ballad, rather than its usual approach – that of an encouraging, uplifting love song.

When they sing, “Please don't take my sunshine away,” you can almost feel the darkness closing in. Chris's stinging electric guitar solo adds an extra exclamation point to it.

 

Anderson East's “Learning” mixes a little Otis Redding soul shouting, with a touch of Al Green Memphis soul – the latter mainly to the Hammond B3 organ part. With its lyric, East sings about all the experiences from his youth that taught him how to be a man.

 

Brandy Clark is at her most vulnerable with “I Cried” when remembering the loss of loved ones. The song's chorus is simple and straight to the point. There are times when one can't do anything else but weep. “I tried to hold my head high,” she sings, “It ended up in my hands.” Clark sings it over a gentle swaying classic country arrangement highlighted with crying – appropriately enough – steel guitar.

 

While the album's songs adds up to an affectionate study of Southern life, its sound is a testament to Cobb's widely varying skills as a producer. Although these artists come at their sound from nearly every direction, Cobb does a fine job of making it all sound of a piece.

 

Southern Family is an album that couldn't have come at a better time – especially with all the awful bro-country music clogging up the charts.

This is a view of Southern life that thankfully avoids cliches. There's no talk about dirt roads, sweet tea or 'keepin' it country,' even though these elements were a part of all of these participants' lives. No, this music digs deeper. These performers thought long and hard about the important factors that have made them what they are today, and used these building blocks to forge memorable songs.