Brantley Gilbert

Fire & Brimstone

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There is smoke coming from Fire & Brimstone -- a heavy fog, to be precise, emanating from "Welcome to Hazeville," a slow, grinding jam featuring Colt Ford, Lukas Nelson, and his father Willie. Not everything on this, Brantley Gilbert's fifth album, is indebted to the mellowing vibes of THC, but nearly every one of the record's 15 songs moves at a steady pace. That deliberateness, which still evokes Jason Aldean, is Gilbert's signature, and despite working with a new crew of producers that includes Mike Elizondo and Brandon Day, the singer/songwriter doesn't stray from his wheelhouse at all. Whatever departures he makes exist on the margins, usually amounting to a softening sentimental side. Whether it's his granddad ("Fire & Brimstone") or child ("Man That Hung the Moon"), family can melt Gilbert's heart, and he also tends to get a bit sticky over small towns and romances. These all may be old warhorses for country music, but Fire & Brimstone is firmly grounded in the present day, anchored almost entirely on prominent drum loops and shined so they gleam. Gilbert's inherent reserve means that even when the proceedings are a little light, as they are on "New Money" -- possibly the first song he's done that could be called "effervescent" -- things feel subdued, but that taciturn nature suits a singer with a few years underneath his belt. Maybe Gilbert isn't stretching himself, but he feels at home within these crisp, cleanly lit surfaces and dour tempos. Maybe it doesn't have enough intensity to live up to its titular promise, but Fire & Brimstone nevertheless is a cohesive record that shows Gilbert in firm grasp of his craft.

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