One thing country star Brantley Gilbert promises when he releases a new album is he’s not going to throw fans of his earlier albums for a loop.
“I want to avoid the situation where, you know, there have been bands in the past — and you probably know this feeling, too — when you really fall in love with a band. And it’s just you love them and you love an entire record that they do, and then they release another record and it’s like ‘What the hell happened?’” Gilbert says. “I want to avoid that. So we always want to keep that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ thing going.”
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So yes, Gilbert’s recently released fourth album, “The Devil Don’t Sleep,” should please the few million people who make up his existing fan base, like those who will see the country artist on the Atlantic City beach 5 p.m. Thursday, July 13. They’ll find plenty of the rough-and-ready hard rocking country songs that have become Gilbert’s musical calling cards (“Bullet in a Bonfire,” “It’s About to Get Dirty” and “The Weekend” are prime examples) mixed in with a few tender but tough ballads (“In My Head” and “Three Feet of Water”).
But if “The Devil Don’t Sleep” seems like more of a good thing musically, it reflects major changes that have occurred in Gilbert’s life in the three years that have followed the release of his previous album “Just As I Am.”
In 2011, Gilbert went through rehab to deal with a serious problem with alcohol and opiates. He dealt some with that struggle on “Just As I Am,” and now the new album picks up the story of how, five years into being sober, he deals with the dangers of falling back into addiction.
“This one to me is more about moving forward, knowing that even though this has been a positive chapter and we’re taking steps forward, I have to be conscious of myself that we don’t know what my devil is, but everybody has got a devil,” Gilbert says. “I have to stay conscious that the devil don’t sleep and temptation is always around the corner. It reminds me to live day by day and keep my head on a swivel. And ‘Just As I Am’ was more about what ‘Just As I Am,’ the song itself (was). That was really more about looking it in the face and going ‘You know what, this has got to change.’”
Another major event that filters into Gilbert’s new songs is his 2015 marriage to Amber Cochran. The couple is now expecting their first child.
Gilbert and Cochran have a history that stretches back a dozen-plus years, but they had broken up about seven years ago. Gilbert had dated and briefly been engaged to country singer Jana Kramer in the interim, and it was after they split up that Gilbert and Cochran re-connected through a cousin of Gilbert’s. The cousin had been a youth minister at a church Cochran attended and remained a close friend of Gilbert’s future wife.
But it was only after pulling up at his cousin’s house to see Cochran for the first time in five years that Gilbert admitted to himself he had never gotten over Cochran.
“I can tell you, I was sitting in that driveway going through in my head, ‘All right, single for life. No matter what she says or looks like or does, single for life, single for life,’” Gilbert says. “And she walked around the corner and all of that went out the window. It was like we picked up where we left off without all of the bad stuff.”
Life, indeed, has been good for Gilbert, especially since he got clean. After signing to Big Machine’s Valory Music imprint in 2011 and re-releasing his second album “Halfway to Heaven,” his career took off.
With the backing of a major label, two singles from the album — “Country Must Be Country Wide” and “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do” — topped Billboard magazine’s Hot Country Songs chart.
Things only accelerated with “Just As I Am,” which arrived in May 2014. The album gave Gilbert two No. 1 Country Airplay singles, “Bottoms Up” and “One Hell of an Amen,” and a Top 10 single in “Small Town Throwdown.”
“The Devil Don’t Sleep” figures to be another hit. Its lead single “The Weekend” has gone Top 10 at both the Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay singles charts. Gilbert has been on tour since early this year promoting the album. He plans to play several new songs in a show that will feature its share of visual bells and whistles.
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“It’s definitely going to be a bigger production than we’ve ever had,” Gilbert says. “It’s always adrenaline-based. You can expect high energy and a lot of adrenaline in your face. Of course ... we like our shows to be a little bit of a roller coaster, so we’ll go down and do some slower songs and more intimate songs — but not too many of them. We try not to make a habit out of that. It will be a lot of fun, man.”