Well, it’s pretty damn phenomenal! We have compelling, moving stories with sharp lyricism, intimate vocal performances that accentuate the moods of the tracks, and of course, a top notch job in production all the way around thanks to the mastermind himself, Dave Cobb. And as such, I’m not sure “Southern Family” is the type of album to be analyzed for the above components so much as it is an album that needs to be simply felt. You have to absorb this album to truly appreciate it. Once you do it’s a rewarding experience.
“Southern Family” isn’t so much a southern album, but it is one that relies on the family motif. First of all we have the artists themselves coming together to record songs under one album as a family. And what I like most about the album is that it isn’t restricted to only artists who have worked with Dave Cobb before. It’s an album where true artists come together to unite in an album that celebrates life, family, and love. This brings us to the songs themselves, which explore a vast array of topics under the family realm such as death, family values, family heirlooms, and settling down to start a family. Some songs are sad, some are celebratory. It’s a unique mix that shows artists pouring their hearts out for songs that mean something to them.
Most of the songs here are grounded in a rootsy production complete with plenty of acoustic instrumentation and luscious steel guitar that for some artists is revisited territory. I may not care for Zac Brown’s latest material, but the track “Grandma’s Garden” is one of the best tracks on here. It tells of a boy who watches his grandmother care for a garden all of her life only to later see that her care for the garden symbolized the meaning of having a passion for something. Other highlights for me include Miranda Lambert’s “Sweet By and By”, Jamey Johnson’s “Mama’s Table”, and the album highlight, the incredible gut puncher of “I Cried” by Brandy Clark, where she watches her grandfather die and can do nothing about it except for cry. She wants to be strong for her family but crying is all she is able to do for the time being.
Even the moments that deviate from the rootsy, intimate production add something of value to the project. Anderson East’s “Learning” will probably be viewed as the most polarizing track on here, especially coming off of Jamey Johnson’s quiet song “Mama’s Table” but I still think it’s a good song, and adds a touch of variety to the album. Actually, the tracks that do deviate from the rootsy production may be what give this album its southern flavor. Brent Cobb’s “Down Home”, and Shooter Jennings’ “Can You Come Over?” are both rooted in country and branch off into southern rock and blues. Both songs directly address growing up in a southern culture. And while “You Are My Sunshine” may be a strange choice for the Stapletons to cover (although their take is excellent), that song is actually the official song of the state of Louisiana. I don’t have much to criticize about “Southern Family”, but I will say that it doesn’t feel like a southern album overall. Plenty of the songs here are rooted in themes that could easily apply to everyone. This isn’t something that takes away from the wonderful music here though, because “Southern Family” is a damn good album.
Overall, “Southern Family” delivers in spades. The talent recruited here was not wasted in the slightest, because with “Southern Family”, there is no picking out the best or worst song, it’s about letting the album play from start to finish and appreciating the art from that Dave Cobb and these artists have made. “Southern Family” will most likely go down as one of the best albums in country music this year, but I’d argue that it will also be one of the best albums in any genre this year.