Hayes Carll and Brent Cobb (Photo courtesy the artists)
As they swapped songs on a recent night at The Birchmere, Brent Cobb told the audience that he considers Hayes Carll one of his heroes. He acknowledged that some have suggested he even stole his song “Soapbox” from Hayes’s “Hard Out Here.”
Hayes quoted Keith Richards, saying, “Stealing from me is like stealing from a pawn shop. There’s nothing real original in there.” For demonstrative purposes, they made a medley of the two songs giving way to Hank Williams, Jr.’s “Family Tradition,” which definitely influenced both these songs.
If I can go on a digression for a moment, it’s interesting to note how Hank Jr. has influenced these two artists even with some real differences of attitude and perspective. Hank is outspoken about his conservative views, but he’s also a genuinely talented musician and lyricist. (His Rich White Honky Tonk Blues, released earlier this year, displays his familiarity and facility with that style of music. The title is bombastic, and maybe a bit over the top, but don’t let it scare you away from checking a genuinely good LP).
Hayes and Brent have a very different worldview from Hank Jr., and they put that worldview on display at The Birchmere on Oct. 26 for their shared Gettin’ Together Tour. In “Another Like You,” originally recorded as a duet with Carrie Ann Hearst of Shovels and Rope, Hayes spun a tale of lust between two people on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Hayes has a laidback, self-deprecating style, and he doesn’t push his views as hard as many do, but it’s clear which side of that spectrum he falls on. On Oct. 26, Brent filled in for Carrie, and the two had a good time with the gender swap that entailed.
Watch the official music video for “Another Like You” by Hayes Carll on YouTube:
Brent is a long-haired country boy from Southern Georgia who comes from a family of artists, a guy who’s done psychedelic mushrooms to expand his consciousness and see where it takes on his songwriting adventures. I’ve noted when covering him previously how, with his smooth delivery and calm demeanor, you can almost miss the very pointed perspective in his songs. “Keep ‘Em On They Toes,” written with his wife after the birth of their child, is all about responding to people who tell you how to live your life; as he sing, “The best you thing you can do when the ignorance shows is keep ‘em on they toes.”
When they took the stage, Brent paused for a moment to tune his guitar, so that he could deliver a “proper professional performance.” Hayes interjected, “That’s our middle name, professional.” Watching these two play off each other was a delight for the audience because they clearly enjoyed interacting. Hayes explained they approached these shows: “With a little bit of a plan, but not much of one.” A lot of the magic came not just from the songs, but from the spontaneous interaction between two good friends. They were having fun up there, and that joy was infectious.
Brent led off the set with “Solving Problems.” In a spoken word break, he talked about putting it together with his cowriter, Scotch Taylor. Scotch asked what they should write about; Brent said, “So far we’ve written about absolutely nothing, and perhaps we should stick to the plan.” NPR has described Cobb as a songwriter who is “obsessed with the ordinary,” and that’s not a bad thing. I’ve watched too much Marvel garbage that has a plot, and is actually about something, but that fails to make me care about anything in it at all. All of that stuff is meaningless if you’re not pushing emotional buttons, and Brent is really good at that.
Watch Brent Cobb perform “Solving Problems” live on YouTube:
Hayes followed Brent with “I Got A Gig.” It’s about his early days as a musician, playing in a bar on a beach on the coast of Texas, when he was paid in tips. Brent recorded “Wild and Blue” on the John Anderson tribute album; the song was written by Nashville Songwriting Hall of Fame inductee John Scott Sherill.
In a bit of inside baseball, Hayes talked about how many of his heroes, like Bob Dylan, grew their fingernails long to improve their fingerpicking. The nail, he explained, makes for a better sound on the string. Ray Wylie Hubbard, he said, even goes to the salon to get nails put on. I’m not sure how, but this led to Brent relating how, in his teens, he tried to convince a friend Brent was short for “Brenteefus” (I am not sure of the spelling here, or even if there is a “correct” spelling.) Later, when he chipped a tooth, this led him to being saddled with the nicknamed “Chipped Teefus.” After that story, Hayes went into “Any Other Way.”
Another fun exchange came on “Keep ‘Em on They Toes,” as Hayes diverged a bit from the song as written. “I felt connected,” Brent said, and Hayes replied, “I felt your original intent.” His next song was “I Will Stay,” and that led to Brent telling the audience how he writes what we considers “anti-love” songs, like “The Right One.” Lest you think life experience has made Brent cynical, he’s been happily married for 10 years. His wife is a pharmacist; he joked about “a musician marrying a drug dealer.” There’s probably also a joke to be had in here about an artist having a partner with a straight job, allowing them both to survive.
The set continued with Hayes’ “In Alcohol’s Defense,” then Brent’s “Sucker For A Good,” which he described as “my version of ‘Gimme Three Steps’” (by Lynyrd Skynrd). After “Another Like You,” Hayes took a break, and Brent played a couple songs himself, one of which was new. By request, he also did “South of Atlanta.” Introducing that one, he mentioned being t-boned in his truck. He got a new truck out of that, but “it almost cost me my life.” If I recall correctly, he broke his shoulder in this accident, which gives us something in common, as I also broke my shoulder accident, though this was less serious than losing the end of my left thumb. (The moral of the story, as they say, is you win thumb, you lose thumb.”)
Stream “South of Atlanta” by Brent Cobb on YouTube:
Before Hayes returned, he also played “No Place Left To Leave,” which he wrote at 16. Brent talked about how, when he appeared on Kimmel, he had taken a 14-hour plane ride back from Europe and spent a day with his daughter at home before heading on out to Los Angeles for the show. By the time he got there, he’d been up for several days. Sound check is early in the day, he explained, then you have to wait around for about 7 hours before you play. In that downtime, he drank an entire bottle of bourbon, and I think the subtext was, “I don’t recommend doing that.”
When he came back out, Hayes played “I Don’t Want To Grow Up,” and “You Get It All,” which he wrote for his wife, fellow musician and author Allison Moorer. He took a turn solo as well. “Help Me Remember,” cowritten with Josh Morningstar, is about his grandfather’s dementia; one day, when he was 14, Hayes was visiting him, and they went for a drive. Quite suddenly, his grandfather asked him where they were, and Hayes, who’s from another part of Texas, had no idea. He describes this as a very frightening experience. I’ve had a similar experience with my mother, when she began driving down the wrong side of a divided highway — something I’ve stopped her from doing on subsequent occasions.
Hayes did “Times Like These,” “Little Things,” and “This Year,” then Brent played another new song. The set ended with “When the Music Fades.” The whole show was a lot of fun, and these two have such great chemistry. The songs were great, but the secret sauce here was the way these two interacted.