Friday, 26 May 2017

Brent Cobb - Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Thursday 25th May 2017

The only reason SHINE ON RAINY DAY didn’t feature high amongst my favourite albums of 2016 was that it didn’t shift off the ‘to get list’ until earlier this year. Now the bad deed of delayed listening has been rectified, not a single second is wasted when lapping up the song writing delights of Brent Cobb. The latest high of dissecting his extraordinary ability was viewing the stage show close up and the album was brought to an extra celestial life after this performance at the Hare and Hounds in Birmingham.

From a presumed memory perspective, this was possibly a first foray into the English Midlands for dates. Expectation and anticipation had been growing though, represented by a fairly packed room in the venue and the added attraction of highly rated Canadian country folk singer Colter Wall as the opening act. Brent had already played dates at Brighton’s The Great Escape and London’s famed Borderline to expected praise and Birmingham’s Hare and Hounds can now be added to the glowing review pile.

Brent Cobb is the epitome of the archetypal country singer. Southern and rural to the core, he is also blessed with the poetic tendencies to turn the most insignificant of observations into majestic songs. Right from the off in this show, he launched into a personal favourite from the album in ‘South of Atlanta’, proclaiming that you may hear a few more hometown inspired songs before the set closed. Of course the record presents a multitude of tracks that could emerge as different folks’ favourite and all but one of them was on show this evening. This included the fabulous co-write with Andrew Combs ‘Shine on Rainy Day’; a song luckily to have been heard twice live in this town, now sung by both its architects, in the month of May. The line ‘ain't it funny how a little thunder can make a man start to wonder’ never loses its appeal of where stellar song writing can take you.

What also made this show special was Brent’s guitar playing sidekick: the extremely talented Mike Harris. He used every inch of the electric twang in his possession to shower plenty of adoring added parts to the songs, working in pristine tandem with the acoustic Brent. Solos fizzed, while the slide injected a dose of the blues. Maybe for another day, but you could only drool over where an added rhythm section could have taken proceedings. However for the time, moment and setting, the arrangement on show was spot on.

The material shared from outside of the album wasn’t skimped on either. ‘Old Shit’ was one of the core tracks that made Miranda Lambert’s PLATINUM such a good record and it would have been remiss for its writer (although technically a co-write with the Cadillac Three’s Neil Mason) not to have played it. On the cover front, we were barely four songs into the set before Brent and Mike decided on a bit of hillbilly, and there is no finer choice than piling into the Dwight Yoakam classic ‘Guitars, Cadillacs’. Just prior to this change of direction, Brent had introduced the song he offered his cousin, and esteemed producer, Dave Cobb for the SOUTHERN FAMILY compilation album and ‘Down Home’ was a mighty fine song that he chose to share.

While the venue soundtrack before, between and after the sets was outstanding (Sturgill Simpson, Lori McKenna, Natalie Hemby, Dori Freeman, and Gillian Welch for starters), it was strange hearing a couple of the artist’s songs on the play list. Needless to say, ‘Country Bound’ and ‘Diggin’ Holes’ sounded even better live than through the venue’s sound deck. While these two tracks were true to the recorded version, Brent chose to play the song writing version of ‘Travelling Poor Boy’ which slightly differed from that on the record.

For those who prefer the tunes with a touch more intensity, the closing pair of ‘Black Crow’ and ‘Let the Rain Come Down’ formed a super climax with Mike letting rip more on the live versions. The last song was also literally the evening closer as no encore was offered thus bringing proceedings to an abrupt halt. A rare occurrence that could certainly be lived with, especially when reflecting upon how well the songs on show were delivered.

Colter Wall 
Like all seriously good singer-songwriter shows, at the conclusion we were a lot wiser of their influences, inspirations and general approach. One of the final remaining tracks to be mentioned is ‘Down in the Gully’ with Brent explaining its association with moonshine. An interesting similarity offered during this show was how ‘Solving Problems’ had all the hallmarks of Guy Clark simplicity. No arguments here with that assertion.

Prior to Brent sharing his songs in the main set, Colter Wall did likewise, albeit in a different style. This Canadian artist, incredibly adept at exposing the dark bleakness of the Prairies in his folk driven songs, has been accruing positive press recently including a ‘one to watch’ nod from Rolling Stone Country. His familiarity with some of the audience was apparent especially the concluding track ‘Sleeping on the Blacktop’ which was featured on the soundtrack of the 2016 motion picture Hell or High Water. The bulk of Colter’s set came from his recently released self-titled full length album with ‘Motorcycle’, ‘Thirteen Silver Dollars’ and ‘Codeine Dream’ probably proving the pick. A hint of mind adjustment is needed to tune into Colter’s style, but when the connection is made, a rich texture supports his songs, all delivered in the aura you would expect from a down beat left field folk singer. Absolutely splendid stuff was on offer for folks to digest.

Luring you into a transfixed zone was the redeeming feature of this gig which heralded both Brent Cobb and Colter Wall as flagbearers for their distinctive styles of music. These are artists deserved of a bigger stage, but there are no complaints when you can enjoy their craft in a somewhat chosen few environment.

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