Brent Cobb Finds Exquisite Simplicity in His Gospel Project, ‘And Now Let’s Turn to Page…’
Like an old photo album with dates and details scribbled on the backs of the photographs, Brent Cobb's new Southern gospel project, And Now Let's Turn to Page..., has family memories tucked into each hymn on the track list.
An Ellaville, Ga. native, Cobb grew up in a Southern Baptist church with his aunt playing piano in the corner as the congregation sang. His dad, Patrick Cobb, leads the singing these days, in a role he took over from his own father. Cobb tells The Boot that when he was making his new album, he consulted his dad and sister, Alecia, to make sure he hadn't forgotten any of what he calls "the Southern gospel greatest hits."
Patrick and Alecia lend their voices to the project, too, singing backup on the final track -- an abbreviated, a capella rendition of "Blessed Be the Tie That Binds" -- along with Cobb's mom Renee, wife Layne and famous cousin Dave Cobb, an esteemed Nashville producer who's known for his work with Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile and many more.
Dave also produced this project, as he has several of Cobb's previous records. In a testament to how important it was that the Cobb cousins work together on And Now Let's Turn to Page..., one of these songs -- "We Shall Rise" -- comes from a memory that was not just formative for the singer's relationship with gospel music, but also laid the groundwork for his friendship with his cousin, and all the musical projects they've worked on together since.
"Dave and I sort of met through -- his grandmother passed away, my great-aunt -- and she would come to my church and she would perform 'We Shall Rise' a capella. So we included that one on here," Cobb remembers. "It was very special, that woman and her life...and that song was sort of the foundation of our relationship. It's all very personally connected."
On that song, and the bulk of the rest of the track list, Cobb calls on Caylee Hammack to contribute backing vocals. Hammack's a rising star in her own right, but that's not the only reason Cobb chose her for this project: She just so happens to be from the same tiny hometown as him.
"I've known her since she was 12 years old," he reveals. "She's just always been great, she's wonderful. It was already sort of a family project, and she might as well be family, and she was available. So yeah, that's how that happened. I've been watching her be a star since she was 12 years old."
Cobb's Southern gospel influences aren't limited to his personal memories from his church and hometown, though. In fact, when he first got in touch with Dave to produce the project, he pitched it as a gospel record styled after Jerry Lee Lewis' country albums from the '70s and late '60s. He'd been inspired by Hank Williams' Grand Ole Opry performance of "Old Country Church" with Little Jimmy Dickens, Alan Jackson's gospel records and Brad Paisley's habit, on his first three records, of including a gospel standard as the final track.
And Now Let's Turn to Page... sounds not like a batch of church hymns, but a filled-out rock 'n' roll record, with the kinds of peaks and valleys, tempo shifts and instrumental solos you'd expect from such a project.
"Well, you know, I always specify that it's not just a gospel album, but a Southern gospel album. And what I mean by that is it's all Southern music. And the word gospel means truth, and good news," Cobb reflects. "If you listen to Otis Redding, or if you listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd -- all that Southern music -- it's all the gospel truth, the good news truth. Musically, as well, that's all Southern music, and I wanted to incorporate all of that: Southern soul, Southern rock, Southern country and Southern gospel. And that's all the same; it comes from the same place."
The record didn't remain a straightforward Jerry Lee Lewis homage -- the Cobb cousins settled into a broader scope with "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," the album-opening track, and stuck with it -- but you can still trace the project's musical predecessors as you listen to each song.
"It came out sounding like Lynyrd Skynyrd got together with Jerry Lee Lewis and Otis Redding and went and made a record at Muscle Shoals," Cobb chuckles.
Steeped in Cobb's lifelong musical and spiritual influences, And Now Let's Turn to Page...'s creation was propelled by the COVID-19 pandemic and a near-fatal car crash that Cobb experienced in 2020. Both events lit a fire under the singer to get the wheels turning on his gospel record, because he had a renewed appreciation for the fact that our time on earth isn't limitless. Specifically, his car accident -- which occurred with his young son in the vehicle -- triggered some other reflections, too.
"After something like that happens, you realize how intricate everything is. It's all intertwined into this one moment that so randomly happened," Cobb says. "That morning, my wife had a hair appointment. I had my son with me. I had to turn around and go back to the house before we left to go to my folks', where we were going that morning. And I took a different route. And then this car just happened to be, at that exact moment, running through a stop sign at a four-way stop."
It got him thinking about all of life's parallels and near misses: All the seemingly random factors that played into his getting T-boned at the intersection that day, and all the seemingly random factors that may have saved him from other wrecks in ways he'll never know about.
"I've been going through this four-way stop my whole life. And I travel the country for a living, for the last 16 years, and I've never been in a car accident," he marvels, going on to wonder -- half playfully, half in earnest -- about the possibilities for other, potential parallels, and the ways in which the universe might split off into two timelines in the blink of an eye; in the collision of two vehicles at a small-town intersection.
"We could get as deep as we wanted to with this conversation," Cobb continues, unfazed. "Who knows? Maybe the parallel split off right then, and in one [timeline], I kept going, and that car ran [the stop sign] right after I passed through. You just don't know."
Cobb explores some of those more metaphysical points in "When It's My Time," the lone original on And Now Let's Turn to Page..., with the help of a music video steeped in surreal imagery and fateful events, like a plane crash, that splits his timeline into two. Directed by Curtis Wayne Milliard, the video lends a visual element to the song's peaceful, ambling exploration of life, fate and the hereafter.
The singer co-wrote "When it's My Time" with his wife during the nights they spent together on their back porch, during the three-hour window of quiet hang time between putting their two young kids to bed and heading off to sleep themselves. In part, its lyrics were inspired by the prospect of Thanksgiving during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how the virus might change the family's usual tradition of all piling into Cobb's grandmother's house.
"We were like, 'Ah, I don't know if people should stay there this year because we don't wanna risk grandma's health.' And my grandma being the Southern spiritual lady that she is, she feels like, well, when it's her time, it ain't up to her," Cobb recounts, before quickly adding, "With that said, nobody stayed at grandma's house. Just in case."
Still, the larger message was one of holding a relaxed grip on life: Meandering through time with the exquisite simplicity Cobb's always applied to music -- and to faith.
"You know, the greatest song ever written was, 'Row, row, row your boat / Gently down the stream / Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily / Life is but a dream," he adds with a smile. "It's so simple. That's the way ['When It's My Time'] feels. That's the way this life feels."
And Now Let's Turn to Page... arrives on Friday (Jan. 28.)