Brantley Gilbert is considered by many to be among the most polarizing stars in mainstream country music, with his heavy rock stylings and tough-guy aura. That said, he boasts a number of recordings that garner admiration from both sides of the argument, but may not reach a wide audience. These tracks below highlight Gilbert as a nuanced writer, as well as a touching and emotional performer.
“Saving Amy” (from Halfway to Heaven)
Arguably Gilbert’s finest lyrical moment, Gilbert delivers a soft vocal over a deep, heartfelt lyric that showcases a personal side never revealed through his radio singles. Penned about a friend of his who died in a car accident after proposing to his girlfriend, it’s an absolute tearjerker. Backed up by a toned-down production and enhanced through an exceptional melody, “Saving Amy” is a must-listen, and is a record that could permanently shape one’s perception of Gilbert’s artistry.
“Halfway to Heaven” (from Halfway to Heaven)
On the title track of his breakout album, Gilbert depicts a story of self-reflection and appreciation after a near-death incident. Telling the tale of a man who gains new appreciation for his family, friends, and life after coming inches from losing it. It’s a touching song that will have one reflecting on their own life, blending the lines between anthem and intricacy for a piece of songwriting that can go head-to-head with the best in the genre. The song takes a more traditional Gilbert approach, with big country-rock guitars, but proves just as effective as his more toned down recordings. It’s a song that will easily appeal to his core supporters, as well as his detractors.
“One Hell of an Amen” (from Just As I Am)
The only radio single to make this list, “One Hell of an Amen” was a #1 hit that finally saw Gilbert bringing his full potential into the commercial spotlight. It depicts a number of scenarios of overcoming oppression, and making it through in the end. It’s a song of faith and perseverance, and one that blends Gilbert’s grit with his tender side. It was worthy of becoming hit, and is not just his best radio offering but arguably his best effort overall.
“Just As I Am” (from Just As I Am: Platinum Edition)
Backed by no more than a piano, the title track, released on the deluxe edition of his second major label studio project, is a stunningly raw record, the likes of which are rarely seen across the country genre these days. The song depicts an alcoholic struggling to cope with getting past his struggles, and is vividly painted with lines such as the man declaring to be “pouring out my best friend.” Gilbert’s performance is unfiltered, and perfectly mirrors the sentiments of the narrator, occasionally coming off as on the verge of a potential breakdown. It’s rare to find a track as openly emotional as this one, and it easily goes down as one of Gilbert’s finest.
“A Modern Day Prodigal Son” (from A Modern Day Prodigal Son)
On the title track of his first career album, Gilbert takes a reflective approach to his badass persona and achieves tremendous results. Instead of embracing bravado, Gilbert emphasizes a journey of change and self-improvement. He accepts his ways, but allows himself a path of serenity over a continued emphasis on “bad boy” narratives. It’s a beautiful tune, that plays to Gilbert’s strengths stylistically and as a vocalist. It’s a hidden gem that deserves to be heard by the masses.