By Alan Sculley
Brantley Gilbert goes tried and true with latest album
One thing country star Brantley Gilbert promises when he releases a new album is he’s not going to throw fans of his earlier albums for a loop.
“Before we start putting songs together and really start working on, putting things in sequential order and wrapping my mind around what (we’re creating), I always go back and listen to all of the other records, the previous records, in their entirety,” Gilbert says.
“You know when you really fall in love with a band and you just love them. You live an entire record they do and then they release another record and it’s like, ‘What the hell happened?’ I want to avoid that. So, we always want to keep that, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ thing going on.”
So yes, Gilbert’s current album, 2017’s The Devil Don’t Sleep, should please the few million people who enjoy his music. They’ll find plenty of the rough and ready hard-rocking country songs that have become Gilbert’s musical calling cards (“Bullet in a Bonfire,” “It’s About to Get Dirty” and “The Weekend” are prime examples) mixed in with a few tender-but-tough ballads (“In My Head” and “Three Feet of Water”).
But if The Devil Don’t Sleep seems like more of a good thing musically, it reflects major changes that have occurred in Gilbert’s life in the three years that have followed the release of his previous album, Just as I Am.
In 2011, Gilbert went through rehab to deal with a serious problem with alcohol and opiates. He dealt some with that struggle on Just as I Am, and the album picks up the story of how, five years into being sober, he deals with the dangers of falling back into addiction.
“This one to me is more about moving forward, knowing that even though this has been a positive chapter and we’re taking steps forward, I have to be conscious myself that we don’t know what my devil is, but everybody has got a devil,” Gilbert says.
“I’m a Christian, so I don’t believe in a literal devil. But I have to stay conscious that the devil don’t sleep and temptation is always around the corner. It reminds me to live day by day and keep my head on a swivel. And Just as I Am was more about what Just as I Am, the song itself (was). That was really more about looking it in the face and going ‘You know what, this has got to change.’”
Another major event that filters into Gilbert’s new songs is his 2015 marriage to Amber Cochran.
Gilbert and Cochran have a history that stretches back a dozen-plus years, but they had broken up about seven years ago and they each had gone their separate ways.
Gilbert and Cochran re-connected through a mutual friend: Gilbert’s cousin.
“It really was intended on all sides just to be to catch up. ‘Hey, we haven’t spoken in five years. Let’s find some closure,’” Gilbert says.
That idea changed in an instance.
“I can tell you I was sitting in that driveway going through in my head going, ‘Alright, single for life. No matter what she says or looks like or does, single for life, single for life,’” Gilbert says. “And she walked around the corner and all of that went out the window. It was just, it was like we picked up where we left off without all of the bad stuff.”
The couple has since had their first child, a son named Barrett Hardy-Clay Gilbert, in November.
Gilbert’s rise through the country ranks has happened quickly. After releasing his 2009 debut, Modern Day Prodigal Son and the 2010 follow-up, Halfway to Heaven, independently and failing to make many ways, his career got a jump start when Gilbert signed to Big Machine’s Valory Music imprint in 2011 and that label reissued the second album.
With the backing of a major label, two singles from the album, “Country Must Be Country Wide” and “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do,” topped Billboard magazine’s Hot Country Songs chart. By the end of 2012, Gilbert was starting to headline sizeable venues and Halfway to Heaven had sold more than a million copies.
His career and profile only accelerated with “Just As I Am,” which arrived in May 2014. The album gave Gilbert two No. 1 Country Airplay singles, “Bottoms Up,” and “One Hell of an Amen,” and a top 10 single in “Small Town Throwdown.”
The Devil Don’t Sleep has spawned several singles, including “The Weekend” and “The Ones That Like Me.”
Gilbert has spent much of the year-plus since the release of The Devil Don’t Sleep touring. He plans to play several new songs in a show that will feature its share of visual bells and whistles.
“It’s always adrenaline based. You can expect high energy and a lot of adrenaline and in your face,” Gilbert says. “Of course, we’ll take, we like our shows to be a little bit of a roller coaster, so we’ll go down and do some slower songs and more intimate songs – but not too many of them. We try not to make a habit out of that. It will be a lot of fun, man.”