“If I wrote a song about a dirt road I grew up on, could I get it on the radio?” asks Nashville songwriter Brent Cobb in his new, tongue-in-cheekily autotuned satire, “Yo Bro.” Well, yes, probably. That’s the point of the twang-rapped song that pokes fun at his truck-riding, moonlight-worshipping, throwdown-seeking bro country colleagues – it’s a parody, all right, but it’s pretty catchy, too. Not to mention that Cobb’s guilty as charged. He co-wrote Luke Bryan’s “Tailgate Blues,” which is full of those cliché tropes, and even stayed at the megastar’s house when he first came to Nashville.
The twist is that Cobb is a writer stuck in the modern conundrum of country music: his roots and heart lie in the pedal steel-filled, narrative stories of a Waylon Jennings youth, but it’s songs about hanging out and drinking beers on the dock that fill pockets. How do you balance both? That’s what “Yo Bro” is about — a meta-twist on what Cobb knows will get more listeners, without going full court bro.
“It was inspired by frustration,” Cobb tells Rolling Stone Country. “I had a few folks in the industry say, ‘Man, if you could just do something that was a little more mainstream, you’d really be doing well.’ But just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. And just because you should do something doesn’t mean you can. ‘Yo Bro’ sounds like bro country and it looks like bro country, but it’s not – I’d say it’s the anti-bro.”
In his solo career, Cobb has more in common with the artists (like Jamey Johnson and Jason Isbell) with whom his cousin, producer Dave Cobb, works, making tried-and-true country where the banjo’s mixed loudest, fishin’ and fireside jams are the only things under the moonlight and his characters wear cutoffs because they don’t see the point in shelling out cash for new Levi’s.
But as a writer for Bryan, Little Big Town, Frankie Ballard and more, he can also sit pretty sweetly in modern Music Row, chugging out tracks that work effortlessly in the current country context. Maybe there’s a place for both — and maybe all it takes is a little humor. It’s summed up in the message that appears on the screen (but not sung) at the end of the lyric video: “Life is fun and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It’s also a gift that shouldn’t be wasted. . . all the time.” Or perhaps just not on songs about getting wasted.
So does he worry that Bryan and his comrades will take offense to the message in “Yo Bro”? “We all grew up that way,” Cobb says of bro-country’s common motifs, “but they know as well as I do that it’s more sacred than that. It’s about being thankful to live and see the next morning. You just gotta speak people’s language, I guess.”