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It has been just under 3 years since Brantley Gilbert’s last album, “Just As I Am”, hit the country music scene, and one listen through “The Devil Don’t Sleep” will leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Southern country/rock-and-roll star hasn’t been sleeping much either.
While out on his last three tours, Gilbert has cooked up a 16-song hit that came in at “Billboard 200’s” number 2 in its opening week. Anyone who was hoping this album would be Gilbert’s escape from the modern “Bro-Country” climate is sorely mistaken. “The Devil Don’t Sleep” is the same machismo, grit-filled, incredibly cliché music you’ve come to expect.
Taken for what it is, however, Brantley Gilbert’s fourth studio album can be a fun, exciting listen for his fans and casual country music fans alike. Diehard, old-fashioned country fans? This one probably just isn’t be for you.
If the fact that this album is Brantley Gilbert’s rock-and-roll brand of Bro-Country dialed up to 100 wasn’t the kill for you already, it may be best to concede one more point. Despite its length, the album has no clear structure or narrative.
Across sixteen songs, the album shifts from all out rock and roll, to heartfelt love song, to songs about matters of faith with little to no warning. This isn’t a Miranda Lambert or Carrie Underwood album; finely constructed with overarching themes. It’s a bunch of solid individual songs tossed together in a pot.
If you can get over these two problems, the album is honestly pretty well done; with the exception of two songs. “Bro Code”. Just skip it. It’s generic and may just be the most cliché Bro Country song of all time.
The rest of the album is Brantley Gilbert’s core put on display. The strong riffs and contrasting musical styles. The gritty stories and nasty love songs. The deep inner-struggles with matters of faith and family. It’s all there, interwoven with some serious heart.
Excluding “Bro Code”, there are a handful of solid songs that deal with matters friendship and loyalty; “The Ones That Like Me” being the best example. Despite a slow pace, a strong underlying guitar carries this song about being true to one’s self and one’s true friends.
Every couple of songs one tends to open with an intense lead, the crash of drums and a tight riff. From “It’s About to Get Dirty” to “Bullet in a Bonfire” There’s no shortage of hardcore Southern rock at the core of “The Devil Don’t Sleep” either. A solid fourth of the album is made up of the angry, machismo style that made Gilbert famous in country music.
There are two fabulous country ballads. “In My Head” and “Baby Be Crazy”. These more laid back, emotional songs are easy to relate to. They’re earworms, and surprisingly they’re two of the songs I’ve kept coming back to.
And those wondering where the raunchy, gritty love songs synonymous with Brantley Gilbert are need look no further than “Smokin’ Gun” and “You Could Be That Girl”. Both of which are strongly reminiscent of rebellious love songs like “My Baby’s Guns and Roses,” from his last album.
The final tracks are the best without question. Leading into the finale with the title track “The Devil Don’t Sleep” and closing the album out with “Three Feet of Water” was brilliant. They portray everything Gilbert has to offer. Despite being a bit more relaxed, these tunes best showcase his personal struggles with alcoholism and authority.
They outline his darkest days, bring you along through his battles with his inner-most demons and closing with his being born-again in his faith in God.
Gilbert also managed to produce a Deluxe Edition with ten bonus tracks. If you aren’t a fan you probably aren’t interested in the extra cash for a dozen demo tracks and live recording of old hits.
But the demos may actually be worth the price. In fact, the demos probably could have replaced a couple of the album’s weaker tracks. If Gilbert had wanted to silence his haters and show a more reserved, thoughtful, classic country side, then those demo tracks making the final cut may have done the trick. They’re laid back, old-fashioned country, just how a lot of originalists like it.
All in all, I would say “The Devil Don’t Sleep” is Gilbert’s best yet. But, depending on how you feel about Gilbert now, you may have to take him or leave him. He doesn’t appear to be looking to change up what got him where he is today. It’s the same formula with improved parts.
For Gilbert’s hardcore fans, it’s a must. For those who can’t stand him, it isn’t changing anything.
For those with an open mind and ear, this may just hook you.
Final Score: A-