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OUT IN THE CROWD: Gilbert bringing a little backwoods to Wild Bill's

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

What do hippies, hicks, jocks and bikers all have in common?

According to Brantley Gilbert, a penchant for living it up in the sticks.

In the first single off his sophomore effort, "Halfway to Heaven," 25-year-old Gilbert introduces anyone who isn't familiar with the country -- those he fondly refers to as "city slickers" -- to the loud throw-downs that happen in the backwoods of the dirty South.

"Halfway to Heaven" follows the 2009 reissue of Gilbert's independently recorded debut album "Modern Day Prodigal Son," which produced fan favorites "G.R.I.T.S." and "My Kind of Party." With lyrics that still hearken to his Southern roots and a more grown-up perspective, Gilbert's new album has been a long time -- about six years -- coming.

"Everybody was ready for some new songs," Gilbert said. "I was ready to put something else out and had been waiting quite a long time. I guess I was six years older and I wanted to tell everybody what had happened since the last CD."

And a lot had happened.

The first single "Kick it in the Sticks" is one of six tracks all co-written by Gilbert that follow the Georgia native through his fast-living, fun-loving days before a near-fatal accident brought him halfway to heaven and back down to the realization that if he was going to pursue his lifelong dreams of making music, he had better do it now.

"I've realized that life can be very short," he said, "and everyone should take advantage of it. If you're gonna live, do something with it."

Gilbert picked up his first guitar, albeit a plastic one, at the age of 3. A plastic microphone completed his childhood stage set-up.

"I'd play for myself all the time," he laughed. "I was a horrible singer back then too, by the way."

Gilbert said the vocal talent that eventually emerged stems from one side of his family.

"My mother sings like a bird, she's my angel," he said. "Her side of the family was more on the musical side of things."

Gilbert got his start on the small stage in his hometown. Too young to be there, Gilbert said, he was nonetheless in the crowd at a local bar one night when fellow country singer Corey Smith was performing. Gilbert had already written a couple songs and was invited up on stage to play. That opened the door to Gilbert becoming Smith's opening act, a gig he stayed with for about three years before he eventually fell into a trap of going through the motions of everyday life, ignoring his musical ambitions.

The accident that almost took his life reignited those pursuits and the career he built from the ground up, show by show, is back on track with Gilbert on tour promoting his new album.

And he has no plans of slowing down.

"We're gonna ride this thing 'til the wheels fall off," he said.