Bobby Cool and The Nashville Players
Nashville, TN, USA
Blue Grass Acts
Bobby Cool is one of those singer-songwriters who invites us into his living room as he details the joys, the tears, and the emotional ups and downs of everyday life. Like Robert Earl Keen, Cool is a natural songwriter who tells stories in a way that resonate with people. Cool’s emotional authenticity sparkles in his pure vocals, which convey with a tender passion the moving power of small moments in our lives and soar with a poignant fullness as they evoke stirring feelings of common bonds between neighbors, friends, and family. In the vein of Chris Stapleton, Tyler Childers, and Sturgill Simpson Cool blends bluegrass, americana, and country into a rousing mix that delivers deep feeling in good-time music that remains with us even after the record is finished.
The Alpharetta, Georgia native, whose real-life family surname is quite literally Cool, first fell in love with country music in high school, where upon he picked up playing guitar right before graduation. Not long after, Cool began playing shows and writing songs while attending the University of Georgia in Athens. “My first gig was at this dive bar called ‘DT’s Downunder’. It was a whole in the wall joint that could maybe fit 50 people, but we packed the place, a bunch of friends came out, everyone was singing along, and I remember thinking, ‘man, this is pretty great’. So, from that point on, I was hooked.”
After graduating from UGA, Cool made the move to music city and began to cut his teeth in clubs around town. He would go to different writer’s nights and networking events to learn how Nashville worked and began to gather a framework for how to ‘make it’ in the music industry. “When I moved to town, it seemed like there were two paths you could take as an artist. One was going after a record deal and the other was to try and build a grassroots following, start small, and hope that it grows organically. For me, the latter just seemed more appealing.”
Having set his course, Cool began to immerse himself in all aspects of running a business and he figured out pretty quickly you need cash coming in if you want to stay afloat. One revenue stream he tapped into was the private event space, which helped pay the bills, and afforded him the opportunity to hone his craft as a songwriter. By 2014 he had a group of demos that would become his debut release, Light in the Dark. The album, which was nominated for best independent country album of the year, ironically kicked off a season Cool would describe as long, dark, and cold. “My wife and I found out we were pregnant with our second son the year after Light in the Dark came out. After he was born, our ship started going down. Financially, emotionally, all the way around really, we weren’t doing well. I started struggling with anxiety and depression and it was a rough stretch, for sure.”
But as with so many artists before him, the ashes and turmoil of personal setbacks seem to plant the seeds that for which can only blossom through pain and heartache. The next few years were spent playing shows and compiling another group of songs to record. At the end of February 2020, Cool and his producer Adam Haynes (bluegrass fiddler for The Grascals, Dailey & Vincent, and others) tracked 13 songs over the course of two days. Two weeks later, the world would shut down and a two-year journey would commence to release into the world what would finally become, Family Time.
As with many during the pandemic, there’s a story in and of itself to be told of the trials and unexpected circumstances Cool had to overcome just to eke out a living. To make ends-meat during the shutdown, he worked as a janitor, radon inspector, and flooring salesman. This, adding to his repertoire of other jobs held early on as a used car salesman, warehouse attendant, and insurance claims analyst. But, as things started opening up again, work on the album resumed, shows started playing again, and a release date was finally set.
On Family Time, Cool shares musical snapshots of small and large moments that define family life and captures intimately the grooves and creases, the craziness and the humor, the regrets, and the celebrations of living together in songs that resonate so deeply we feel as if he’s written them just for us.
The album opens with the country folk ballad “American Dream,” which rides in on a lilting, unspooling dobro run that spirals into a melodic spaciousness that wends its way into your heart. The song echoes John Prine’s “Paradise” and fills the soul with the same emotional fervor. “‘American Dream’ started with the melody,” Cool recalls. “I was playing around on the guitar, and it just felt like it was supposed to be this patriotic kind of thing. Then a few days later, sitting down to write, the opening line, came out naturally and the story began. To me, this song captures the essence of the American Dream. It’s ultimately not about fortune or fame but the freedom to choose your own path and live it out.”
The bright country rambler, “Waffle House”, follows and rollicks with a high-stepping rhythm that floats along dazzling pedal steel runs and a shrewdly told story about the ways we often return to our roots even after we’ve left them behind. The song began when Cool heard about golfer, Bubba Watson, celebrating his victory at the Master’s with a trip to the local Waffle House. “I thought the idea of winning a prestigious tournament and then celebrating at a downhome breakfast diner was pretty great. It was super endearing and relatable. Growing up in Georgia, we ate at Waffle House all of the time too, so it became a story of a guy ‘hitting the bigtime’ but not forgetting where he came from,” says Cool.
Shimmering guitars cascade over glittering dobro runs in the stirring country anthem “Waves of Grain,” which echoes Garth Brooks’ and George Strait’s songs for everyman and everywoman. Cool’s evocative vocals etch the lines of healing into a landscape often divided by various conflicts. “If ever there was a song I felt divinely inspired to write, it would be ‘Waves of Grain’,” Cool reflects. “It came from what I would describe as a vision of a wheat field being an analogy for all people. The opening verse, ‘there’s a farm out in a valley, with its amber waves of grain, and in a wild way it reminds me we are one and one and the same’ is essentially what I saw. And with everything that’s happened over the last couple of years, I hope this song might offer some healing, encouragement, and remind us that love can bind us together in spite of the things that pull us apart.”
Spare guitar fingerpicking opens the Willie Nelson-like “Crazy,” an earnest story about the craziness that lives in the shadows in all families and that comes to light when we least expect it. The slowly unfolding ballad—like a slow dance at a wedding—reveals a tongue-in-cheek surprise ending that reminds us of the power of love in the face of all odds—even crazy families.
“My Love,” a nod-and-a-wink to love songs everywhere, is an exuberant dance song fueled by fiddle and dobro runs skittering around guitar strums and Cool’s celebratory vocals.
The heart-rending “Stella” opens sparsely with Cool’s tender vocals before circling higher and higher into a steel-drenched guitar ballad about facing the challenges of life in sometimes difficult circumstances. “I wrote it for our good friends’ daughter who was going through a hard time. I wanted her to know that even though things weren’t great, her parents loved her no matter what and, ultimately, it was going to be okay,”.
“Join the Party” begins as a slow gospel-inflected tune that opens up into a joyous dobro-filled celebration of life, family, and friends, while “Perry Street Blues” rides high on an Alan Jackson-like country honkytonk vibe, floating along a river of keys and piercing lead runs and transporting vocals. The rollicking “You in Mind” motors along with a jangly country rock sound, with tinges of Bruce Springsteen and Brad Paisley-like psychedelic lead guitar runs thrown in for good measure, celebrating the depth of love a man feels for a woman.
Family Time closes with “Battle of the Lion King” which marches in on rolling snare drums, roaring across the plains, mimicking the sound of a group marching into battle, and builds with blustery guitars swirling around the drumbeat like clouds of dust. Echoing the allegorical tail of Don McClean’s “American Pie,” Cool’s song plays off his imaginative vision of the world around us and leaves you with the sense that, in a tail often seen on the silver screen, there’s more than meets the eye.
In the end, it’s clear that Bobby Cool revels in telling a good story as much as he does trying to live one out. He sings songs that reach us wherever we find ourselves in our lives, touching us, healing us, and embracing us with music that fills our hearts and reminds us that life’s most important events happen on family time.