Like Texas’ Red Dirt artists, A Modern Day Prodigal Son doesn’t focus on what is popular in Nashville at the moment but what actually works for Brantley and his tenor voice. The album, which features 13 tracks, kicks off with a story song about how high school romances can indeed become longtime romances, even when they should’ve probably ended after High School. The romance continues and the way they keep a young relationship strong (even when it’s normal to go through a plethora of relationships during the 15-25 decade) is to remember what got them started in the first place, that freshman year.
“What’s Left Of A Small Town” is another well-written story about the ending of a small town and how it has changed but it’s still where Brantley Gilbert is proudest to be from. It’s a story that could be written about any small town as they’ve moved on or become homogenized by the encroachment of urban sprawl and housing developments. With an acoustic guitar leading the melody in the opening of “G.R.I.T.S.,” the song (listen here) really feels like something that could work well on the country radio as Brantley sings about the beauty and charm of southern girls who “have every head turning” in a club or bar but “know their roots” and “love their mom and daddy and the lord to death.” It’s a well-worn theme but it sounds refreshed on this southern fried rock track that’s likely a big ole hit when performed live.
While Brantley’s great with the party songs, when you hear his soft acoustic-based ballads, this is where the artist really comes out. “Whenever We’re Alone” speaks of small moment pleasures between a man and a woman while the title track, with gentile piano and guitars leading the way, finds Brantley singing a story about what feels like his own life. It’s a song that recalls the best ballads from Garth Brooks and the chorus has a powerful hook that will have you singing along. “The Best of Me” and “Picture On The Dashboard” both follow the soft/gentile acoustic ballad approach as well.
While Brantley can and does do the up-tempo stuff quite well, and it is needed for the live shows, it is the ballads that stick with you the longest. For a debut record, Modern Day Prodigal Son shows remarkable potential. It’s potential that shows that Gilbert was right to choose to do music instead of another career path and it also shows why he’s able to play before packed houses while touring Georgia and other states in the southeastern part of the USA.
(Note: This review was from the 2009 Average Joes Entertainment release. It was re-issued by his new record label The Valory Music Co.).