Brantley Gilbert Doubles Down On Bro Country He hasn't traded in his truck. Brantley Gilbert performs at the release party for his latest album album, The Devil Don't Sleep. Few contemporary country trends in recent memory attracted more did at its height.
A few years back, the breezily macho delivery of backwoods come-ons over big, blunted guitar riffs and spindly programmed beats seemed like a for hits. The perception was that those songs amounted to little more than crass capitalizing on hollow tropes, and over the last year and a half, a significant number of country's male acts — known quantities and newcomers alike — have steered away from bro sensibilities. The momentum in the format has shifted in increasingly diffuse directions — to ; ; -; ; , and . In the midst of all this recalibrating, Brantley Gilbert, who's behind some of the brawniest country radio singles of the last half-decade, has declined to budge from the approach that helped propel him from the roster of Average Joes, a scrappy hick-hop label operating on the fringes of the country mainstream, to Valory, an imprint of industry powerhouse Big Machine, and then onto the charts. If anything, the 32-year-old, Georgia-born singer and songwriter digs in his heels on his fourth album, The Devil Don't Sleep, making clear that he's committed to not only inhabiting but thoroughly exploring a particular kind of bro-ish identity: the tough guy tentatively wading into introspective territory. It was evident all along that Gilbert would never be the country act crooning sweet, settled nothings . Instead, he projects the persona of the prickly-yet-repentant bad boy who leans on his swagger even as he exaggerates the labor of confessing his hidden sensitivity. Even his version of a party jam, lead single "The Weekend," is of a different character than the bulk of those that populated radio playlists. When Gilbert goads listeners to cut loose, the invitation lacks the carefree attitude of his peers' once-ubiquitous party-starters. His stony, murmured delivery of the verses' low-slung, minor-key melody gives the song a menacing undertone.
"We know ain't nobody scared now," he insists during the chorus, and it feels like he's staring down dangers (Drunken brawls? Trouble with the law?) that can come with unrestrained revelry. The song's intro briefly isolates layers of the album's dense sound — a syncopated acoustic guitar figure, a thumping bass and hissing hi-hat pattern. Quickly, they're submerged beneath a squall of rock guitar whose flashy, muscular '80s-invoking attack is a specialty of Gilbert's producer Dann Huff. But the thing that really makes the song, and much of Gilbert's music, feel as pugnacious as it does is the way that he sings. He has a somewhat limited vocal instrument — neither supple nor naturally athletic — but he uses it to accentuate the extremes of his performing persona, channeling stubborn small town resilience through his clenched drawl, airing aggression through his strenuous, sandpapered rasp and hinting at pent-up ferocity with surly, monosyllabic spoken asides. His performances are instantly recognizable,often confrontational and pack a punch. On the surface, Gilbert makes few concessions to the mellowing trend in male country expression.
When he sings of a love interest riding shotgun in "You Could Be That Girl," he's imagining a risk-sharing companionship that bears a very faint resemblance Fetty Wap's "Trap Queen." "Well, I'm lookin' for a Bonnie," Gilbert announces, "lookin' for a P.I.C. — a little partner in crime; come hell or high water she's down, she's ridin' with me. Little miss watch-for-blue-LED Flood Light , while I drive you can hold that .45. Go down in a blaze of glory; I always loved that story."