Where hard rock meets the red clay of Georgia exists a man with a tough exterior and a gentle soul. It may be hard to believe until you listen to Just As I Am, but beneath the black clothing and tattoos, country rocker Brantley Gilbert is a simple, sweet, and honest man who is willing to share fourteen tracks worth of the truth with his fans. From front to back, Gilbert’s new album (released on May 19th) serves as a window into who he is as a person, while proving his abilities as a unique country artist.
Just As I Am can best be described in two words: emotional grit. Gilbert’s vocals are notably as gravelly as ever, but, with this particular project, he provides fans with emotion that we have yet to see come from this singer who could be voted as “Most Likely to Have Chains Hanging from His Wranglers” (if he would ever slip into a pair of these jeans).
The album opens with “If You Want a Bad Boy” and closes with “Grown Ass Man,” songs which adequately bookend the rest of the tracks, as they both allow Gilbert to embrace his persona, but in two startlingly distinguished ways. “If You Want a Bad Boy” is a strong starting point, as it includes everything you would expect from the man with a hard rock style and seemingly soft soul. The opening track is riddled with grit, electric guitars, drums, and is classic rock with a twangy twist. If you ever were going to headbang on a dance floor while stomping your boots, this is the song that will encourage it.
“Grown Ass Man,” perhaps the biggest highlight on the album, is a straightforward, truthful acoustic offering from Gilbert that puts himself out there for the world to see/hear. In this song, Gilbert describes himself as “somewhere between ‘Amazing Grace,’ ‘Back in Black,’ and ‘Simple Man,'” admitting to his sins and never claiming to be a saint. The final track on Just As I Am beautifully wraps up the record and justifies the title, as Gilbert explains that he is who he is and he won’t change for anything.
Sandwiched between these two extremely different songs lies a variety of topics, thematically linked together by those two little words mentioned above: emotional grit. Whether Gilbert is singing about a new love that makes him feel like he is traveling back in time to his teenage years (“17 Again”) and getting caught up in those little moments with someone special (“Let It Ride”) or is putting romance on hold for a party (“Smalltown Throwdown”), Gilbert puts his all into his work, pouring himself into the girl or pouring a beer into a cup. Also included is Gilbert’s first single off the album, “Bottoms Up,” which is a simplistic party song that simultaneously explores the topic of love (or lust). Written by Gilbert, Brett James, and Justin Weaver, “Bottoms Up” set the tone for Just As I Am and steadily climbed the charts until it claimed the Number 1 spot.
Highlights on the album (apart from “Grown Ass Man”) include “I’m Gone,” “My Baby’s Guns N’ Roses,” and “One Hell of an Amen.” As a self-proclaimed sucker for a good ballad, “I’m Gone” immediately struck a chord with this writer … pun intended. “I’m Gone” opens quietly with strings and encapsulates a listener from the first note. In a song about Gilbert checking out of a relationship and trying to tell his former love that she needs to move on, Gilbert genuinely explains that he isn’t going anywhere; he is already gone. Though being on the receiving end of this song must feel like knives to the heart, an outsider cannot help but side with Gilbert in his forthright proclamation that the door was slammed and locked quite awhile ago.
“My Baby’s Guns N’ Roses” tells the story of a guy’s girl who isn’t interested in the finer things in life and, instead, prefers wild times, fast cars, and rock music. Gilbert sings about not being able to help himself around a girl like her, cleverly including the titles to some of GNR’s biggest hits: “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “November Rain,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” and “Paradise City.” Anybody who appreciates the musical history of GNR will love this song and turn it into a “Bad Obsession” (seewhatIdidthere?).
“One Hell of an Amen” is a tearjerker that will make you sit, think, value life, and mourn and accept loss. A song that honors those who have passed after fighting “the good fight,” “One Hell of an Amen” will cause a listener to reevaluate his/her daily approach and work toward living a beautiful and respectable life. Gilbert croons of the loss of a soldier at war and a terminally ill cancer patient, both of whom fought a fight to remember and whom deserve a bow of the head. “So be well my friend till I see you again. Yeah, this is our last goodbye, but it’s a hell of an Amen.” If you have lost a personal hero, this song will certainly make you close your eyes and quickly walk back through the stages of grief you experienced at the time of the loss.
Gilbert’s newest release is country rock n’ roll that will soothe your soul, taking you on the ride of your life in fourteen tracks. Shooting out of the gate with a bang and slowing to a stop with an acoustic track that will make you feel like you are getting an exclusive glimpse into Gilbert, Just As I Am will take you on ups, downs, twists, and turns, but will be one of the most unique rides of your country music life. The title of the album speaks volumes, as you will learn more about Gilbert than you ever imagined — the good, the bad, and the ugly — but you will also learn that Gilbert accepts himself just as he is, and you will find that you accept him just the same.