Brantley Gilbert looks the part for the poster child of the bro-country movement. His affliction shirt, earrings, tattoos, and gaudy jewelry reek of a guy pushing a hardcore image to unsuspecting fans. While Brantley lives up his reputation in many of his songs, he has often showed a sensitive side that reveals some emotional songwriting. If you bought Just As I Am looking for a hard-rocking jam-fest, you may be disappointed. While this may not be the greatest album I've ever heard, or even among the best of a strong 2014 for album releases, Just As I Am is certainly surprising with it's honesty and emotion.
Perspective is key in this album. When you hold it up to Jason Eady's Daylight and Dark, or Sturgill Simpson's Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, its pretty weak. The overly loud guitars, heavy production, and throwaway tracks kill it's chances to be Album of The Year material. However, when compared to the majority of releases by the big name radio guys, this album has a lot more depth and sincerity. Brantley Gilbert is an artist of potential. He can write. He has proved that. He needs to lose the dopey persona he is trying to push and get back to his roots. He clearly has something to say.
The opening track is pure throwaway garbage. I'm tough, I'm bad, I like rock 'n roll, blah blah blah. We've heard this 5000 times from BG. But, from there the album gets much better. "17 Again", like most others, is loud and overproduced, but the lyrics about reminiscing over old love are relatable and compelling. Of course, there's the usual schlock of small towns and partying songs tossed in. "Small Town Throwdown" is just a marketing gimmick with Justin Moore and Thomas Rhett to use the star power of three up-and-comers to attract enough attention to distract from the fact that this song sucks. "Lights of My Hometown" is literally the exact same song, so in case you were wondering, BG's town is small and they party. How unique. The lead single, "Bottoms Up", is also boring and mindless. Its hardly catchy and the lyrics are as basic as it gets. BG is sober. Why he still perpetuates this party boy drinker image is beyond me (jk. It makes him lots of money. duh). He should spend more time being honest about facing his demons than playing up to an image that clearly isn't real.
Fortunately, Brantley does spend a lot of time with better subject matter on this album. You know what's missing from radio? Love songs. Cheesy, over the top, love songs. All women nowadays are regulated to ornaments on the tailgate rather than focuses of sincere admiration in most radio singles. BG is bringing back the love song. "My Baby's Guns N Roses" is a little cheesy, but it still feels honest and gives the girl a little more personality and intrigue than most mainstream hits do. "Let It Ride" is another good ole fashioned love song. Well, its not old fashioned, the guitars and production are cranked up like every song on the album, but it's still sincere and emotional. I dig it. On the opposite end of that spectrum, "I'm Gone" is a pretty solid leaving song that actually has a surprise to it. It is clever songwriting. BG certainly has skill, this song proves it. "One Hell of An Amen" is also borderline cheesy, but it works. The sentiment of living life to its fullest and going out on top is a tried and true theme in country music, and BG wrote another solid song in that line. "That Was Us" is probably the catchiest song of the album, and the lyrics aren't half bad. Its a typical good ole days song, but with the contemporary-yet-still-country sound and easy to relate to lyrics, this could be a big song that modern and traditional fans could enjoy on the radio. "My Faith In You" is what I wanted to see from Brantley. He has had some trouble in his life, and rather than ignore that, he confronts some of his demons in this song about keeping his faith amidst adversity. It's honest, its pure, and its true. Brantley dug deep and gave us a small peek inside. These are the songs that make people stop and listen. It's not background noise, its an emotional release. "My Faith In You" is a strong closer to this album.
Overall, Just As I Am is surprisingly decent. I expected a train-wreck full of parties and pickups. Those themes are still there, but this digs much deeper. Brantley Gilbert has a lot of talent hidden behind his wallet chains and goofy shirts. If Brantley can shed his bad boy persona and focus more on being true to himself, he could really take the next step as an artist. Even so, Just As I Am is a decent album, and worthy of checking out if you like good songwriting with a rock edge. It won't win album of the year, but I'm impressed and pleasantly surprised with this effort.
Standout Tracks: "My Faith In You", "One Hell of An Amen", "That Was Us", "I'm Gone", "Let It Ride"
"One Hell of an Amen"