Has Brantley Gilbert gone soft on "Fire and Brimstone," his album released in October?
Has the man who helped popularize the bro country movement left behind the rough, rowdy and rocking sound that has been his signature?
On "Fire and Brimstone," is Gilbert showing an emotional, sensitive — and dare we say — vulnerable dimension in his songwriting?
To a point, Gilbert would answer yes to those questions. While it has a few tunes that kick up the dust, the album leans a bit more toward slower tempo material ("What Happens in a Small Town," "Man That Hung The Moon" and the title track). It is a personal and emotional album that brings Gilbert's formerly tumultuous life up to date.
"This one's got that energy," he said of the album's music. "It may be not as prevalent as it was on previous albums, which wasn't necessarily intentional. I feel like this chapter of my life, and the story I was trying to tell, is about a little bit of the chaos and the mayhem leveling out some."
It's no accident that "Fire and Brimstone" is the title track on Gilbert's fifth album.
If you go
› What: Brantley Gilbert
› Where: McKenzie Arena, 720 E. Fourth St.
› When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15
› Admission: $28-$172
› For more information: 423-266-MOCS
"The theme of this record basically is showcased with that song. It kind of sums it up," Gilbert said. "There's basically some parallel story lines going on. There's my wife and I. There's kind of the personal journey from being a boy to a man, a wild man to kind of settling down to become a dad and there's my spiritual walk."
Gilbert has made no secret that his penchant for partying got out of control when he was younger. Eventually it took a toll. In fact, Amber Cochran, the woman who is now his wife, broke up with him at one point, in part because she wasn't comfortable with Gilbert's addictions. That split lasted five years, during which time they didn't see or speak to each other.
Gilbert has come a long way since he started dating Cochran nearly a decade and a half ago. The country music star broke through when two singles from "Halfway To Heaven" — "Country Must Be Country Wide" and "You Don't Know Her Like I Do" — topped Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart.
His career and profile only accelerated with third album "Just As I Am." The album gave Gilbert two more No. 1 Country Airplay singles, "Bottoms Up" and "One Hell of an Amen."
The 2017 album, "The Devil Don't Sleep," wasn't as successful, but still went gold and added a top 10 song, "The Weekend," to Gilbert's catalog. This new album gave Gilbert another No. 1 Country Airplay hit with "What Happens in a Small Town," featuring Lindsay Ell.
Along the way, he's gotten his act together on a personal level as well, going through rehab to deal with a serious problem with alcohol and opiates, reconnecting with Cochrane in 2011 and marrying her in 2015. They have a son, Barrett, who will turn 2 in November, and a daughter, Braylen, who arrived in September.
Gilbert was on tour almost up to his wife's due date and now has dates set into May. It promises to be a big production.
"I tried to get away from a little bit of the pyro and cryo and go to some digital stuff with a lot of screens, just to see what we could do with the lights," he said. "But man, it just didn't give me the oomph that I wanted, so we're bringing out a full pyro package. I'm excited about that, just because I think it adds a lot visually."
Chances are the songs Gilbert performs, especially as he adds new material to the show, will say a good bit about his life and how he feels about who he is today.
"It's just like reading a book. It's going back in time and listening, if you listen to all of my records, you've got a pretty good idea of who I am."
Gilbert will perform Saturday, Feb. 15, at 7:30 p.m. in McKenzie Arena, 720 E. Fourth St.