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Has Brantley Gilbert gone soft on “Fire and Brimstone,” his latest full-length album?
Has the man who helped popularize the so-called bro-country movement left behind the rough, rowdy and rocking sound that has been his signature?
On “Fire and Brimstone,” Gilbert is showing an emotional, sensitive — and dare we say — vulnerable dimension in his songwriting.
Gilbert would agree. “Fire and Brimstone,” while it has a few tunes that kick up the dust (“Tough Town,” “Fire It Up” and “Not Like Us”), leans a bit more toward slower tempo material (“What Happens in a Small Town,” “Bad Boy” and “Man That Hung The Moon” and the title track).
It is a personal and emotional album that brings Gilbert’s formerly tumultuous life up to date.
“This one’s got that energy,” he said. “It may be not as prevalent as it was on previous albums, which wasn’t necessarily intentional. I feel like this chapter of my life and the story I was trying to tell, it’s about a little bit of the chaos and the mayhem leveling out some.”
It’s no accident that “Fire and Brimstone” is the title track on Gilbert’s fifth album, which was released in October 2019.
Where: Back Waters Stage, Q Casino, 1855 Greyhound Park Rd., Dubuque
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, rain or shine; opening act Sean Stemaly
Tickets: $54.50 general admission; $89.50 Turpin Tailgate; qcasinoandhotel.com/entertainment/backwater-stage/
Artist’s website: brantleygilbert.com/
“The theme of this record basically is showcased with that song. It kind of sums it up,” Gilbert said. “There’s basically some parallel story lines going on. There’s my wife and I. There’s kind of the personal journey from being a boy to a man, a wild man to kind of settling down to become a dad, and there’s my spiritual walk.”
Gilbert has made no secret that his penchant for partying got out of control when he was younger. Eventually it took a toll. In fact, Amber Cochran, the woman who is now his wife, broke up with him at one point — a split that lasted five years, during which time they didn’t see or speak to each other — partly because she wasn’t comfortable with Gilbert’s addictions.
It’s not that he didn’t try to behave — at least with Cochran
“Without going too deep into that … I was all jacked up,” Gilbert said. “I told her a couple of years back, we were kind of talking about the old days, and I told her, I was like ‘Man, you don’t understand, I’d take you out and I’d wear myself out staying clean, not drinking, not doing anything. When I dropped you off, I’d have half of a bottle of Jaeger down before I got to the end of the driveway.’ It’s a different life (now), man.”
Gilbert has come a long way since he started dating Cochran nearly a decade and a half ago. Obviously, he’s become a country music star — breaking through when two singles from “Halfway To Heaven,” his second album — “Country Must Be Country Wide” and “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do” — topped Billboard magazine’s Hot Country Songs chart.
His career and profile accelerated with his third album, “Just As I Am,” which arrived in May 2014. It gave Gilbert two more No. 1 Country Airplay singles, “Bottoms Up” and “One Hell of an Amen.” The 2017 album, “The Devil Don’t Sleep,” wasn’t as successful, but it still went gold and added a Top 10 song, “The Weekend,” to Gilbert’s catalog.
“Fire & Brimstone” has given Gilbert another No. 1 Country Airplay hit with “What Happens in a Small Town,” which features a guest vocal from Lindsay Ell.
His newest music is a single, “The Worst Country Song of All Time,” a collaboration with Toby Keith and Hardy. Gilbert codirected the video for the song, which has some fun with certain world leaders and some country cliches.
As Brantley has grown into one of country’s leading stars, he’s gotten his act together on a personal level as well, going through rehab, reconnecting with Cochrane in 2011 and marrying her in 2015. Now four years later, they have a son, Barrett, who will turn 4 in November, and a daughter, Braylen, who arrived in September 2019.
Gilbert is back on tour, coming to the Back Waters Stage at the Q Casino in Dubuque on Sept. 10, 2021. Chances are the songs he performs will say a good bit about his life and who he is today.
“I feel like through the years, people, really not just the songs, but the bodies of work and my career as a whole, they can go back and listen to a story,” Gilbert said of his albums. “It’s just like reading a book. It’s going back in time and listening. If you listen to all of my records, you’ve got a pretty good idea of who I am.”