So, what to make of this Rick Brantley? This seeker of the life-changing novel and the perfect pair of beat-to-hell boots; this connoisseur of the cool classic movie and the greasiest dive-bar cheeseburger, disciple of the museum’s masterpiece and the panhandler’s wiliest street-pitch? This guy who lives it, loves it, takes it all in and pours out something so tight and right you just gotta hear it again and again? Well, let’s just tell it straight: Rick Brantley is a singer-songwriter who can seriously, seriously write and sing; a rocker who can really, truly rock. A young man worth listening to.
Rick Brantley was born and raised in the musical mecca of Macon, Georgia, a preacher’s son, soaking up the strains of gospel music, fire-and-brimstone sermons and the echoes of musical legends: Blind Willie McTell, Otis Redding, The Allman Brothers. “My Dad dug the local heroes, and was big on pop/rock hitmakers of the 70’s, too, like Three Dog Night. We had a little home recording studio; music was such a part of everything”, Rick says. He was also inspired by singer-songwriters like Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel. “You learn from those guys and they lead you to Kristofferson, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt,” he adds. Brantley learned his lessons well: barely out of high school, his own songs and red-hot band performances led to a publishing contract and new home base in Nashville. Since then, his songs have been covered by artists ranging from Meat Loaf to country crooner David Nail, while he’s continued honing his stage chops as both full-tilt rock-show frontman and acoustic solo performer, opening for acts as diverse as John Hiatt, Zac Brown Band, Better Than Ezra, and Steve Earle.
It’s the rock side that takes the wheel for Brantley’s newest EP, Hi-Fi. The six-track musical meal leans into the wind, pairing his rock howl with hope and harmonica. Beginning with “Fine So Fine,” Hi-Fi emits a warm optimistic glow – maybe, together, we’ll all be okay. It’s a sentiment that’s echoed throughout the record: “Little Bit More” is a love call to arms, while “Holes” sheds sunshine on imperfections. There’s something vaguely familiar about Hi-Fi, a warm orange gospel that evokes bench seats and warm steering wheels and settles snugly between nostalgia for the glory days and joy at the potential of tomorrow.
Then there’s “Hurt People.” The song, which leads the EP as a single, digs deep into the gritty, sometimes uncomfortable place born of knowing someone well. It’s a testament to Brantley’s ever-present need to understand the world around him: he’s an acute listener, and he’ll tell you that getting to know people at the merch table is his favorite part of every show. In “Hurt People,” that richness comes to life, honed in the stark depth of forgiveness by way of understanding.
“I’ve never met anyone that, like [Hi-Fi producer and co-writer Mark Selby], is such a method actor,” says Tia Sillers, the award-winning songwriter who co-wrote five of the six songs on Hi-Fi. “If we’re going to write a song about a person, we have to go back to birth. We have to know this person’s second aunt, we have to know what happened to them in fourth grade, and we have to deliberate these things.”
“Of course all of that can’t be in the song, because it’s a short form” Selby adds, “but the back story of these people are all there in their minds, they’ve been worked out.” Listening to Hi-Fi, you may just feel like a bit of your story was woven in too.
So back to our original question: what to make of this talented Rick Brantley? If enough of us hear him, see him, watch him own another stage. . . well, we might just make him a household name.