Georgia natives Dallas Davidson, Ben Hayslip and Rhett Akins have become go-to songwriters of hits such like Jack Ingram’s “Barefoot and Crazy,” “Put A Girl In It” from Brooks and Dunn and the current Joe Nichols hit “Gimmie That Girl” and they co-wrote (in various configurations) three tracks on Halfway To Heaven. The current single “Kick It In The Sticks,” “Back In The Day” and “My Kinda Crazy.” All three have a more ‘mainstream’ feel but two of them (“Day” and “Crazy”) show off a softer, gentler side to Brantley that is, quite honestly, a welcome change from the rockin’, rowdy Brantley we came to know from the first pair of songs on the record. “Crazy,” in fact, finds the down home and honest, from the heart lyric that has come to define the hits of Brantley’s co-writers. “Kick It In The Sticks” is another ‘from the country’ type of song but with a hard rock melody driving the song, it doesn’t sound like any other ‘from the country’ song we’ve heard before and in a world where fans listen to more than just one genre, the song is an effective bridge between genres.
After the songs about hell raisin’, one would expect “Halfway To Heaven” to be another track under that theme but it is instead a song where Brantley Gilbert is bearing his soul about the stupid decision he did one night which lead to a near-death experience after wrapping his truck around a tree. This is a personal tale of faith and God’s hand giving Brantley the reminder to ‘live life as a better man’ after getting ‘halfway to heaven.’ The title track, co-written with Spillman and Mike Mobley, is simply stunning and certainly is the touchstone track of this album. The album notes include pictures of the wrecked truck to serve as evidence. If I were programming a radio station, I would love to have raw, real and emotional songs like “Halfway To Heaven” on my playlist. This is what country music is.
“Saving Amy,” written with Bonnie Baker, is another song about an accident but instead of being about Brantley surviving, he’s singing about a man who didn’t survive the accident. It’s about the pain the ‘ghost’ is going through as he witnesses his fiancée struggle to move on without the love of her life there with her. It’s tender and well-done (complete with 3-piece cello, viola and violin string arrangement) and another place where country music comes alive. “Take It Outside” has the outlaw vibe of the growing group of Hank Williams-lovin’ country music fans and it completely different than the past two songs mentioned and I’d classify it as ‘honky tonk metal.’
Colt Ford co-wrote “Country Must Be Country Wide” and “Them Boys” with Brantley and Mike Dekle and while he doesn’t show up on the track, “Them Boys” is probably the most traditional track to be found on the album. "Country Must..." is= Brantley Gilbert’s ‘gateway’ song onto mainstream airwaves and that should set him up nicely to release the title track and "Them Boys" later on down the line. It is well-written and stands out, but not as much as the previously mentioned tunes. Colt does guest on the revisited take on “Dirt Road Anthem,” a song originally from Colt Ford’s Ride Through The Country album. This track, which Jason Aldean took to #1 this summer, has netted Brantley Gilbert and Colt Ford a CMA Award nomination for Best Country Song (which is interesting because most people call it 'rap' and not country).
New tracks on the Deluxe Edition include “More Than Miles,” “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do” and “Hell On An Angel.” The first track, written by Brantley and John Eddie, finds him singing about of leaving a girl behind to follow his dream. It’s a good song with a strong hook and it sounds radio ready but honestly, it’s a little ‘stale’ compared to other songs on the album, including “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do,” a potential follow-up single to “Country Must Be Country Wide” and “Hell On An Angel,” another song that could be a single and it is this, the latter one, which longtime Brantley Gilbert fans would love to hear on the radio if other tracks from the album aren’t released.
The main thing you need to know about Brantley Gilbert’s Halfway To Heaven is that it’s not as close to mainstream country music as some might expect a Nashville-based label release to be yet it’s also not as far from the mainstream as some probably hoped he’d be. Instead, he’s somewhere between the ‘rock-n-roll’ vibe of the southern country rock scene, the roots-rock oriented flavors of Texas country and the mainstream of Nashville. Blended together, this makes Brantley Gilbert, who last appeared in these review pages with his DYI effort Modern Day Prodigal Son from a few years back (but reissued last fall), an artist worth watching and with the move from Average Joes Entertainment to The Valory Music Company, Brantley Gilbert certainly has the smarts to work with the best in the industry and that can only help him grow his career to even higher levels.