On his latest studio project for BMLG’s The Valory Music Co., Brantley Gilbert hopes to add to his collection of hardware, which includes two Platinum albums and a Gold-selling project. With Fire & Brimstone, which released Oct. 4, he certainly adds to his reputation as a songwriter adept at crafting both driving crowd-pleasers and detailed heart-tuggers. While Brantley wrote or co-wrote every track on the project, he also welcomes a string of his fellow artists to the recording.
The album features a collaboration with Lindsay Ell, “What Happens In A Small Town,” which is nominated for Musical Event of the Year at this year’s CMA Awards, and is in the Top 10 on the country singles charts.
“Scott Borchetta and I and management had been talking about doing a duet at some point but it was just about finding the right song,” he tells MusicRow Magazine. “When we wrote this song it seemed like a duet from the word go. We put some different ideas and Scott brought up Lindsay’s name and it just clicked.
“Her name is just synonymous with hard work and how much time she puts into her craft. She’s the real deal, has a great voice and just a guitar slinger. I mean, the way she plays makes me want to put my guitar in the case and never play it again.”
“Welcome To Hazeville” reunites him with “Dirt Road Anthem” co-writer Colt Ford; the track was also co-written by Lukas Nelson. Fittingly, legendary country song stylist and longtime marijuana advocate Willie Nelson wraps the song’s final vocal line.
“We had a big group of us out on the road that weekend. I left that part for Colt to do his thing. It’s a good timin’ song and we can connect the dots on what it’s about, just good times. Considering what the song’s about, who wouldn’t want Willie Nelson on a record? Colt and I’s first tour was Willie Nelson’s Throwdown Tour and Lukas was on that tour as well. It’s kind of a throwback hang on that song.”
To be sure, his new album, successor to 2017’s Devil Don’t Sleep, is stocked with churning rock-country tracks that teems with concert-ready rhythms, like the small-town pride anthems “Not Like Us,” and “Fire’t Up,” which should easily find a home in the setlist among his Gold and Platinum-selling hits such as “Bottoms Up” or “Kick It In The Sticks.”
But those weekend-welcoming, party-ready songs are tempered by themes of faith, regret, nostalgia, change and hope, as he draws on past years of struggles, delves into his personal evolution as a husband (he married Amber Cochran in 2015) and a father (in 2017, the couple welcomed son Barrett Hardy-Clay Gilbert, and last month, they welcomed their second child, daughter Braylen Hendrix Gilbert).
He might praise the strength of his fellow small-town types in “Tough Town,” but it’s a sturdiness not built upon empty bravado, but rather the sweat-inducing work of bringing a harvest out of the hard earth, or a time-weathered, love-filled relationship symbolized by old couples still holding wrinkled hands.
There are tender moments like album closer “Man That Hung The Moon,” which Brantley penned by himself the day he found out he and his wife were expecting their second child. He ponders the struggle between who he is and who he wants to be on “Man of Steel,” penned alongside Brock Berryhill and Cole Taylor.
“All of my albums are chapters of my life but this one is a little more retrospective and it takes some steps back in time. I wanted folks to see part of the journey and that’s the spiritual journey, the journey with my wife and I, and my kids and just my personal journey becoming a husband and a dad,” Gilbert says.
The most sterling of these is “Bad Boy,” where Brantley applies his husky, warm voice to a retelling of his own story of the earliest days of his relationship, dating his wife and meeting her family, with a poignant twist at the end as the song takes on the perspective of the mother conditionally giving her blessing to the relationship on the lines So alright, bad boy/long as them old habits don’t come back, boy/you know that’s how she lost her dad, boy.
“It’s word-for word the truth about me and my wife. It’s a play-by-play. We were on and off for about five years, and now we’ve been married for about five years. In the beginning her mother was not a fan of me at all, and for good reason. We all did some growing up and it’s definitely a different story now. It’s a personal song, but most of the time those end up being the ones that are the most relatable.”
He retraces the struggle, and later wisdom, that comes from his wilder days of youth, on a couple of soul-searching tracks, including “Lost Soul’s Prayer,” which he penned with Andrew DeRoberts, and the title track “Fire & Brimstone,” which was a solo write for Brantley. He welcomes more artist collaborators, as Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss lend their voices to the later track.
“Jamey and I have toured together and his voice, if you listen closely he kind of plays a role of the reverend and Alison is kind of playing the choir and I’m the guy in the back that smoked a cigarette on the way in. Jamey is one of my favorite voices of all time. I just thought he was perfect for that part and if God gave an angel’s voice to a human, he definitely gave it to Alison. To have both of them on a song is incredible.”
Brantley will start the new year out strong, offering audiences some of the new material on his headlining Fire’t Up Tour, which launches in late January. The tour will feature openers including Chase Rice, Dylan Scott, and Brandon Lay.
“I’ve seen all of their shows, and I like what they bring to the stage and I can’t wait to get out there. Who knows, we might even write some songs together,” he says.
But most of all, he’s ready to bring new music to the fans.
“I think people are hungry for new stuff after three years, and we’re ready to feed that,” Gilbert says.
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