Brantley Gilbert tames his wild side

Emily DiSalvo

Brantley Gilbert’s new album “Fire and Brimstone” shows a mature and nurturing side that one can only explain as a necessity of being a husband and a father.

While he was previously known for songs like “Bottoms Up” and “The Weekend,” focused on drinking and “living it up for the weekend,” the songs that are destined to make it big in his new album are not party songs.

Gilbert married Amber Cochran, a schoolteacher from his hometown, in 2015. In 2017, Cochran gave birth to a son. In my opinion, these pivotal life events caused the tone of his music to pivot as well.

“What Happens in a Small Town” with Lindsay Ell from “Fire and Brimstone” has already been a chart-topping success. This song offers glimpses into a softer, more emotional Gilbert that is typically masked by his tough-guy persona in his older songs.

Gilbert, a 6-foot, burly, heavily tattooed man with a hefty beard, allows the listener to feel an intimate connection to a small town and the pain of breaking up with a girl he grew up with and wondering whenever he sees her car if there’s someone else in the passenger seat.

While we feel a personal connection to this girl, in “Bottoms Up,” the song refers to a woman as a “pretty little mama looking at you like that.” 

His marriage may have inspired him to sing songs about one specific girl, and his relationship with this girl is more than just someone to go “Bottoms Up” with. Besides “What happens in a small town,” the other songs on the album portray Gilbert as an unapologetic bad boy, willing to tame his wild side for a special girl. There are a few songs with a heavy rock feel or even some rap-like singing, but many of the songs are softer.

The best example of his new style is “Man of Steel.” The song exhibits his raspy, distinct voice in a new way. Rather than using it to shout, “Live it up for the weekend,” he uses it to almost whisper, “I’m gonna be your man of steel.” The song shows him channeling his masculinity as a protector and guardian rather than as a reckless cowboy. The song uses less vigorous drumming and instead has a very steady bass beat in the background that sounds like a heartbeat, rather than a drum solo.

Another notable song on the album is “Never Gonna be Alone.” It has a more intense chorus than “Man of Steel” which involves heavy drumming. But when it comes time to say, “You’re never gonna be alone” he uses that same whisper as “I’m gonna be your man of steel,” and just like that Father Bear Brantley is back.

The song opens with, “I can’t promise you my wild side won’t show up from time to time,” which I feel is a motif for the entire album. While he is confessing to being more tame now, he acknowledges that every now and then, the “Bottoms Up” singer will make a comeback. 

And he does. “Fire and Brimstone” contains a few songs t characteristic of his old style. If I didn’t know better, I would have actually thought “Fire’t Up” was from his old album. He goes back to phrases like “Country queens do your thing” which sounds like it could come straight out of “Bottoms Up.”

I like the new Gilbert. His older songs were pump-ups, but his new songs are principled. He sticks to a theme – bad boys can be tamed – and I don’t think there is any better theme to represent his music or his personality. I loved getting to hear the quiet, emotional side of his voice. If you want to truly experience the transition, listen to “Small Town Throwdown” from his old album and then follow that up with “What Happens in a Small Town.”

You will realize that small towns can be places for wild parties, but they can also be places where one can’t drive around without a memory of someone who made that town feel like home.

4 out of 5 star rating