Thursday, September 15, 2011

Album Review: Brantley Gilbert - Halfway To Heaven (Deluxe Edition)

I cannot fairly write this review, so let me go ahead and start by telling you that this album is a 10/10.  It would not be the least bit objective for a couple of reasons.  First, I am too big of a Brantley Gilbert fan to look at the music critically.  I fell in love with his music the moment I heard it.  Second it is not the initial release of the album.  The first twelve songs were released in the first half of 2010, and I bought the album when it was released then.  I have probably listened to the original release over a hundred times.  Finally, there is too much emotion tied into these songs, too many memories, too much personal meaning. If I did not state this outright, it would not be fair to those reading this admittedly subjective review.

As mentioned, this is not the first release of most of these songs.  Gilbert released the first twelve tracks on his former record label, "Average Joe's Entertainment".  Since then, a lot has happened for this young artist.  He signed on with Valory Music Company, which houses Justin Moore (whose album was reviewed earlier this year), and a little known artist named Reba McEntire.  Fellow Georgian Jason Aldean recorded two songs from his debut album ("Modern Day Prodigal Son"), taking both "My Kinda Party" and "Dirt Road Anthem" to #1.  This move caused a lot of anger among Gilbert fans, but the success of this album will show that Jason brought Brantley the biggest opportunity of his career.  Finally, he began the process of re-recording, remastering, and re-releasing this album.

Anyone who has listened to Brantley's music knows Brantley.  A lot of artists say that they pour everything they have into their music, but one listen to tracks such as "Saving Amy" and "Halfway to Heaven" and you get the feeling that he puts everything and then some.  The title track is the true life story of a moment that forever changed him.  He drove home one night after a party, drunk, and ended up upside-down slammed into a tree.  The emotion in Gilbert's voice is extremely moving, as he tells about how that one moment truly changed his life.  "Saving Amy" is just as heartbreaking, as the singer tells of watching over his fiancee after dying in a car wreck the night he proposed.

Gilbert does a good job with the romantic songs, such as  "Fall Into Me" and "My Kinda Crazy", too.   Among the final three tracks on the album, which are the new ones added for the deluxe edition, "More Than Miles" is spectacular.  The song is reminiscent of Jason Aldean's "Keep The Girl" (off of the "Wide Open" album), as Gilbert sings about leaving his girl behind to chase his dreams in Nashville.

For all the emotion used in the slow songs, the Georgia-native dumps an equal amount of energy into his rock and party anthems.  "Hell On Wheels" opens the album, a song often compared to the classic "Copperhead Road", but on steroids.  "Kick It In The Sticks" and "Take It Outside" show the party side of his music.  Colt Ford joins Gilbert for the original version of "Dirt Road Anthem", which features the two verses that Jason Aldean's version has (performed by Colt Ford) as well as a third verse in which Brantley himself raps.  Gilbert's current single, "Country Must Be Country Wide" (currently #15 on the charts) is a tribute to his fans, and a reminder that country music is popular in more than just the South.

In between all of these, Gilbert takes us back to when he was growing up with songs such as "Back In The Day".  "Them Boys" is that song that we have all sang, when we observe a younger generation that just does not get it.  It feels a little hypocritical at first, especially after "Bending The Rules and Breaking The Law", until the end, when Brantley observes that his and his friend's grandfathers were probably saying the same thing: "Them boys don't know one thing about life/ True love and trouble/ Struggle and strife/ They think it's all just fun and games/ Like laws and rules are balls and chains/ Treatin them girls like hearts don't break/ Treatin old men like hands don't shake/ I pray it's just a phase/ their goin through/ Yeah but what are we gonna do with them boys?".

Among the new tracks, "Hell On An Angel shines brightest as it closes the album out.  It tells the story of his wife, who has him changed from an outlaw to a lover.  This song could make for a great single in the future.

Overall, the deluxe edition of "Halfway to Heaven" is a great way for Brantley to make his entrance into the larger world of country music.  It is true to the original album, just cleaner and better mixed.  The effort is sure to please both die-hard fans who were worried that he was going to sell out, as well as new fans, looking for a breath of fresh air in a genre that is rapidly moving towards the pop side.  As mentioned before, this album is a 10/10.

Enjoy the video for "Country Must Be Country Wide", shot at the same prison in Tennessee where "The Green Mile" was filmed:

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