I rarely pay attention to compilation albums because they usually do not feel as authentic as actual albums. They are usually strung together in order to profit on the idea that people can get a lot of great artists on one record. This seemed different though. The title alone implied that this would be more than disconnected song, but instead a family of tracks, all produced by Dave Cobb. Cobb has produced records from some of the greatest artists in indie country, many of whom appear on this record. With names like Chris and Morgane Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Brandy Clark, Zac Brown, and Miranda Lambert on here, this was a must listen for me.
With pretty high expectations going in, I can safely say this is the greatest possible outcome of getting all these artists together. This is a near-perfect country record to me, with each artist delivering some of their best material and Dave Cobb bringing it all together to flow in a cohesive way.
This compilation has been being pitched as a concept album, focusing on the idea of values and life lessons learned by each artist after growing up in the South. As a liberal from Massachusetts currently going to college in New York, this should not be appealing to me. I would be lying if I said this did not strike an emotional chord with me. Themes of close family, love, and death are all over this record and while those seem like broad topics, the artists here are able to make them all come to life.
Starting off with the bleak but caring “Simple Song” by John Paul White, we get the lyrics “you’re gonna die” repeated before we get into the rest of the song that focuses on White’s familiarity with death and how he has grown to accept the deaths of his loved ones. It is a bitter but beautiful start to an album full of songs in this same vein.
“Grandma’s Garden” by Zac Brown falls in this bittersweet category, as Brown reflects on the lessons his deceased grandmother had taught him. He uses the garden as a not-so-subtle metaphor for the family she helped to raise and grow. More emotion is added when Brown discusses his memory of giving her eulogy at her funeral.
Anderson East’s “Learning” which comes soon after Zac Brown’s song, also focuses on life lessons taught by East’s father teaching him to be a man. This song is probably stand out the most with its heavy production, but this does not make it feel out of place as the themes and East’s powerful vocals make this song feel right at home here.
The emotional climax of the record comes on Brandy Clark’s song “I Cried” that is about the death of her grandfather. It is a slow and somber tune with detailed lyrics about her grandfather’s final moments with his family and how, like White said on his song, he was encouraged to go to Heaven and be done with the suffering. Clark’s vocal deliver is emotive and touching, making it impossible not to feel for her.
Many of the other songs got to me in a personal way, as well. Jason Isbell’s “God is a Working Man” tackles the subject of religion more than any of the other songs on here. Isbell recounts his grandfather who was a Pentecostal preacher and how he would speak in tongues and hold up snakes, and how it was hard to stay connected with religion through that. He instead focuses on the hard work that his grandfather does and how the working men of this country are who people should be praising. This is a sentiment I understand and am totally on board with. As a Catholic, I do not agree with everything taught by my church, but I do appreciate the work being put in by everyone who is working hard there.
After this, we get to “Down Home” by Brent Cobb, an artist I had never heard of prior to this. The song has a traditional country sound to it and is simple in its message. Home is where family and heart is. As a college student this really does speak to me as I do occasionally feel that missing piece of myself when I am away that is not always noticeable until you go back. I know it is best to stay objective when reviewing music but when a song is able to resonate as well as this one is, it is worthy of note.
I honestly am having trouble finding flaws with this record. If I were to complain, it might be that Morgane and Chris Stapleton’s cover of “You Are My Sunshine” goes on a little too long, but it is not like the song bored me, the two work great together and the song is incredibly powerful. This is an album that I recommend to all, especially those who love any of the artists on here. The variety of voices and sounds on here come together to create something that is truly special and memorable and I am positive this will end up being one of my favorite records on 2016
Best Tracks: Simple Song, God Is a Working Man, Down Home, Grandma’s Garden, Mama’s Table. Learning, I Cried, Can You Come Over?, The Way Home