Album Spotlight: Brantley Gilbert, ‘Just As I Am’ – ToC Critic’s Pick
On ‘Just As I Am’ Brantley Gilbert has matched the raw adrenaline found on earlier records with some of the best songwriting you’ll hear this year. The result is 11 deeply satisfying tracks, each ripped from his personal life.
And some are ripped. The 29-year-old seems tortured reliving a few moments, yet none feel so personal that a casual fan won’t be able to relate. Country-rock ballads like ‘I’m Gone’ stand out, even over the more boisterous party cuts like his fist two singles. In fact ‘Bottoms Up’ and ‘Small Town Throwdown’ are the only instant-pleasure songs on ‘Just As I Am.’ The rest of the album deals with love and loss.
“What you’re hearing is an echo / What you’re seeing is a ghost / I’m just dust that hasn’t settled back down on the road / I went there long ago,” he sings during ‘I’m Gone,’ a last letter to a lover that won’t let go. His honesty is almost cruel, yet it holds you like the strongest memories of love that’s slipped through the fingers.
‘Lights of My Hometown’ is the album’s focal point, coming halfway through and lasting over six minutes. Time will tell if Gilbert tried to do too much during this rocker with a soulful spirit. What begins as a nostalgic look back ends with a nod to a fallen friend:
“How ‘bout a flashlight on a tombstone / Let your best friend know that he ain’t alone,” he sings. Later we learn the Georgia native lost a friend to war.
“Preacher said he died too young over there totin’ that gun / For Uncle Sam and our freedom,” is how he begins ‘One Hell of an Amen,’ a mostly-acoustic ballad that let’s the energy into the room late.
Other lyrics that will make one shiver include the entirety of ‘Let It Ride,’ a slow and sexy love song that swells into something to make a modest woman may blush. “Cause you got your lips an inch away from mine / Just to see how long they take to touch,” he sings.
‘My Faith’ closes the album. Gilbert calls this one of the most important songs on ‘Just As I Am,’ and it’s a fitting end to an album that truly tells the story of four years of his life.
Gilbert never claimed his third studio album was a party record, but the first two singles certainly played to the rowdy. Often an artist who relies too heavily on loud rock-and-rollers has nothing significant to say. This is not the case for Brantley Gilbert. He has an attic full of undiscovered ideas and emotions, and he protects the key with his life.
Key Tracks: ‘If You Want a Bad Boy,’ ‘I’m Gone,’ ‘Lights of My Hometown,’ ‘Let It Ride’
The Breakup Song: Gilbert says ‘I’m Gone’ is about the end of his relationship to Jana Kramer. In fact he had to cut the song the day the engagement ended.
Did You Know?: Brantley Gilbert has a brother with a beautiful voice, but he’s very shy so it’s unlikely you’ll hear him soon.
Everything You need to Know About ‘Just As I Am’ in 60 Seconds