Three years is a long time in the world of country music (soon to be two albums and an EP if you’re Luke Combs), but it’s nearly that long since Brantley Gilbert released his last album, ‘The Devil Don’t Sleep’. So the hunger of Gilbert’s fans to hear new music was evident when the long awaited ‘Fire and Brimstone’ shot straight to number 1 on the billboard country album charts earlier this month.
Right from the opening track you know that Gilbert is back with a vengeance. ‘Fire’t Up’ is the classic rock country that we would expect. “We encircled up them four wheel drives/ stacking palettes to the sky” he sings. I doubt he’s done much palette stacking in the last three years, but with the grittiest voice in country music, you sort of believe he could.
There’s an impressive list of collaborators on this album, from new and old country. On ‘What Happens in a Small Town’ Gilbert is joined by Lindsey Ell, who herself seems to do no wrong right now. It doesn’t get more legendary than Willie Nelson, who appears on ‘Welcome to Hazeville’, alongside Lukas Nelson and Colt Ford; a lads song that you can imagine them jamming in the garage.
But what really makes this album is the quieter, vulnerable moments. ‘Fire and Brimstone’, the title track, is a stop andlisten song. The vocals of Alison Krauss and Jamey Johnson complement Gilbert in the perfect harmony sandwich. They bring out the best in each other – Krauss in particular is made softer and more innocent against the rasping Gilbert vocal, but against Krauss, Gilbert’s sound appears more raw and honest.
‘Bad Boy’ embraces the power of country to take poignant moments and say them just how you would if you could find the right words: “Girl, I would dial your number without lookin’/ And you’d always pick it up as soon as it rang” and later in the song “Well, I remember sitting down beside your mama/ My hands shaking in my pocket with that ring”. The track was co-written with Andrew DeRoberts and Josh Phillips who provide song writing magic to several other tracks on the album. Hey
There aren’t many albums that make you wait all the way to end for the real star. ‘Man That Hung the Moon’ will hit the heart of any parent, an ode to the perception of young children that their parents are God. It’s a song that makes me close my eyes every time I listen. And this is the perfect finale to an assured, confident, matured album. The reflective tone of Brantley Gilbert, the father. And this surely isn’t a song that he could have written three years ago, not only because he wasn’t a parent, but because of the wisdom it conveys. He’s grown, and his music is all the better for it.
On a fifteen track album there is always going to be a coupleof tracks that don’t quite match the calibre of the rest. ‘Not Like Us’ is dated – surely we’re moving on from “light it up with your buddies” type lyrics. And ‘Man of Steel’ is so 80’s Gilbert is going to need to grow a mullet if he wants to perform that live. And here is one of the big questions for me: in the new world of country music, which seems to have genuinely embraced the deeper movement of albums like Maren Morris’ ‘Girl’, and The Highwomen, is there really a place for a more macho male country character who still sings about “jackin’ up their trucks”? I’m not sure, but Gilbert finds a way of giving us macho and vulnerable in balanced measure.
Of ‘Fire and Brimstone’, Gilbert says: “I feel like I am at this stage in my career where I am confident enough to let the music take me where it’s meant to go, no matter how down and dirty that might be. There is no doubt that this is the album that allowed me to grow up musically.”
And grown up he has, but still I suspect, enough bad boy to keep his BG Nation fans happy.
FIRE & BRIMSTONE Track List:
1. ‘Fire’t Up’ (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Brandon Day, Justin Weaver)
2. ‘Not Like Us’ (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Rhett Akins, Brock Berryhill, Amy Wadge)
3. ‘Welcome To Hazeville’ (featuring Colt Ford, Lukas Nelson and Willie Nelson) (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Rodney Clawson, Andrew DeRoberts, Colt Ford)
4. ‘What Happens In A Small Town’ (featuring Lindsay Ell) (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Rhett Akins, Brock Berryhill, Josh Dunne)
5. ‘She Ain’t Home’ (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Brian Davis, Justin Weaver)
6. ‘Lost Soul’s Prayer’ (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Andrew DeRoberts)
7. ‘Tough Town’ (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Blake Chaffin, Andrew DeRoberts, Josh Phillips)
8. ‘Fire & Brimstone’ (featuring Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss) (Written by Brantley Gilbert)
9. ‘Laid Back Ride’ (Written by Brantley Gilbert)
10. ‘Bad Boy’ Written by Brantley Gilbert, Andrew DeRoberts, Josh Phillips)
11. ‘New Money’ (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Rhett Akins, Brock Berryhill, Brandon Day)
12. ‘Breaks Down’ (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Jaida Dreyer, Josh Mirenda, Justin Weaver)
13. ‘Man Of Steel’ (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Brock Berryhill, Cole Taylor)
14. ‘Never Gonna Be Alone’ (Written by Brantley Gilbert, Brock Berryhill, Erik Dylan)
15. ‘Man That Hung The Moon’ (Written by Brantley Gilbert)