Dave Cobb has risen in prominence in the last few years as the producer of Chris Stapleton ("Traveller") and Jason Isbell ("Something More Than Free"). With "Southern Family," he crafted an album inspired by the 1978 "White Mansions" concept CD about the lives of people during the Civil War. Cobb worked with a dozen artists, also including Miranda Lambert (a tribute to her family in the well done "Sweet By and By"), Stapleton ("You Are My Sunshine" with wife Morgane taking the lead) and Zac Brown ("Grandma's Garden"), to craft a release described by Paul Kennerley (he wrote the songs on "White Mansions") as "a tribute to the soul of southern country music."
The music is based on the lives and hardships experienced in many personal songs. Most of the material tends to be on the quieter side, starting with John Paul White, ex of The Civil Wars, on "Simple Song." Jamey Johnson echoes that on "Mama's Table," with his clear, slightly twangy singing warmly recalling the family heirloom.
Brandy Clark delivers one of the most emotional readings with "I Cried," a slow-paced honky tonk ballad, about the death of an 82-year-old veteran and his surviving widow. When Clark sings "I cried/I cried. Oh I cried. Tried to hold my head high, ended up in my hands. I cried," she wrings the emotion out of the songs with Robbie Turner's pedal steel contributing to the mournful tones.
While most of the acts reflect their country music upbringings (in an interesting twist, Shooter Jennings is on this disc, while his father, Waylon, sang on "White Mansions"), Anderson East, whose sandpapery voice quickly recalls Ray LaMontagne, is soulful on "Learning" with its Muscle Shoals sounds, including soul back-up singers and a punchy horn section.
Rich Robinson, best known for being part of the Black Crowes, mines soul and gospel on "The Way Home" replete with stomps and handclaps, not to mention Robinson's stinging, bluesy guitar underneath.
With an album intended to give a southern perspective to the culture of American life, Cobb clearly achieved his goal. Deserving credit for a strong cast of performers and songs, "Southern Family" is yet another demonstrable indication of the genius of Cobb.