“To finally have a release date and get some feedback is gonna be awesome,” Jacob Bryant tells me over the phone, yawning before he can finish his sentence. Of course, he apologizes, but I don’t blame him and we both laugh about it. Having spent most of 2018 out on the road touring, it’s no wonder the dedicated singer-songwriter is so exhausted. Aside from a grueling touring schedule, Bryant also spent the last year and a half working on his first full-length album, which is the reason for our phone interview just a week before Christmas.
“We were only gonna do 10 songs originally, but then we ended up finding a couple more as the recording process went down,” Bryant explains to me. “We definitely went through the process of elimination there and picked the 12 best that we thought would resonate with my fans.”
Those that follow the always enthusiastic performer know that he’s consistently described his sound as country done his way, a statement that, although backed by his previous EPs, is truly unquestionable on Practice What I Preach, which he finally gets to release on February 8th.
“I’ve always just tried to stay true to myself, and let my influences show through, from bluegrass to blues, southern rock, and of course, traditional country as well,” Bryant tells me during our phone conversation. “I think there’s a song on this album for anybody and everybody,” he adds. “And I’m definitely proud and excited to see what people think.”
Produced by Collective Soul lead guitarist, Jesse Triplett, as well as Bryant and his manager, Jeff Catton, this long awaited debut is exactly what fans have been anxiously waiting for, and it definitely exceeds all expectations. Like any good artist, Bryant had his hand in the entire creative process, and according to Triplett (who’s very proud of and happy with how the finished product turned out), “He (Jacob) knows what he wants and was by my side the whole time while recording, and in my head he certainly gets some of the producer credit for this album.”
Appropriately titled, Practice What I Preach perfectly captures the essence of Bryant’s character, both in and out of the recording studio, and is the most accurate representation of who the Georgia native is as an artist, leaving no room for questions. Heavy on the guitars and chock full of the kind of authenticity that’s only found in true country music, the 12 track project balances the traditionalism that Bryant was raised on with the southern rock he thrives on, while also allowing his softer, more sensitive side to shine when fitting.
“Jacob is as authentic as the small town in Georgia he comes from, and that shines through on a stage, in a writing room, and by just shaking his hand,” songwriter Wyatt McCubbin, who has two songs featured on the project, tells me in an email exchange.
“He’s a true artist in a day and age where many things can be fabricated,” Triplett also tells me over email. “What you see and hear is what you get.”
What we get on Practice What I Preach is worthwhile songwriting that knows when and when not to take itself too seriously. Stories about life, love and loss without the stereotypical cliches currently heard on country radio are even more compelling when delivered by Bryant’s rich, southern drawl and explosive vocals. Though it’s easy and understandable to assume he wrote all 12 songs, he actually only co-wrote four tracks on the album, choosing instead to spotlight the talents of his equally gifted songwriter buddies for the rest.
“I just kind of feel like I try to write what I feel at that time, and if a song comes along that I didn’t particularly write but it’s something that I can relate with at that time, that’s kind of how I choose them,” Bryant explains to me.
“It says a lot when a singer-songwriter can pick a song without his own name attached to the writing credits,” McCubbin admits to me. “To me, that is just as hard as writing.”
Bryant’s personal connection to every song on Practice What I Preach is unique enough that each track bares its own significance and individuality while still maintaining an overall cohesiveness. Tying this album together is the singer’s immeasurable depth and passion that’s woven into each song like the thread of a well knit blanket. Whether it’s the blues rock vibe and foot-stomping percussion of a rip-roaring number like “More Than One Year” or the somber styling of tracks like “Bring You Back” and “Hot Mess,” with their difficult subject matter, the versatility of Bryant’s full-length release can be equally appreciated no matter where your country music preferences lie.
The heart of Practice What I Preach lies in what is also Bryant’s greatest strength as an artist. His ability to write and record songs with considerable substance and longevity that are as personal to him as they are relatable to his fans is exceptional, and will no doubt keep him relevant long after the current fads in the genre today have come and gone. In fact, within the range of various subject matter the upcoming release covers, two standout examples of the exemplary storytelling highlighted on this album are found on “Hot Mess,” written by Bridgett Tatum and Kimberly Kelly, and the title track, “Practice What I Preach,” co-written by Bryant and Jami Grooms.
“The characters in Jacob’s life are more real than we could ever put into words,” Grooms states over email. The songwriter goes on to describe his experience working with Bryant on “Practice What I Preach,” which was inspired by the singer’s Uncle Diamond (who, according to Bryant, is a mirror image of himself) by saying, “It’s easy writing songs with Jacob because all you got to do is tell the truth. He is who he is. Loud and redneck proud, but kind and gentle, full of faith and mercy. I have worked with many artists in this business, and Jacob…well, he is something special.”
Songwriter Kim Kelly was also happy to be able to contribute to the project, and proud to be a part of something that had the potential to touch someone on a personal note the way “Hot Mess” struck a chord with Bryant because of his own mother and her struggles while raising him and his siblings.
“I felt like it was a good time for someone to say thank you to all those mothers out there that are less fortunate, but they give their all to their kids and their family, and somehow make it happen,” Bryant tells me.
In our discussion of “More Than One Year,” Bryant recalls how as a fan of the song and someone who “didn’t think it’d ever really saw the light of day that it deserved,” he was not only grateful, but also super excited when writer, Eric Lee Beddingfield agreed to let him record and release his own version of the song, as well as be a part of the music video. As Bryant explains to me over the phone, “It was just one of those tunes that at a point in my life when I was going through all the stuff that song was talking about, it kind of resonated. So I was stoked that he (Beddingfield) was really supportive of me cutting it.”
“I’m a fan of his overall delivery and presence as an artist,” Beddingfield exclaims via email. “Great songs and kick-ass live show!”
On the revamped, full band version of “25 In Jail,” Bryant mixes twangy guitar riffs with thundering drum beats to create a reimagining of the traditional country his own sound is firmly rooted in. The honky tonk crowd pleaser that was first featured acoustically on the singer’s Unplugged Vol. 2 EP has now become the ultimate outlaw rock tribute to Merle Haggard with the lyrics, “I guess I could get sober, but I’ll just stay here and drink/Mama tried to raise me better, and I guess she didn’t fail/cause I didn’t turn 21 in prison/I turned 25 in jail.” One listen and there’s no question that it’s everything Jones could have hoped for when he asked “who’s gonna fill their shoes?”
Later on “Pain Pain,” the engaging singer shifts into the role of a bitter ex who’s being taunted by the pain of a break-up in this clever, country twist on a classic nursery rhyme penned by McCubbin and Carson Chamberlain. “Pain Pain, go away/don’t you bother coming back some other rainy day/don’t let the front door hit ya/take her damned old memory with ya/I’ll call ya back when hell’s a cold, cold place/pain pain, go away.”
That gritty, southern howl we hear from Bryant on “Pain Pain” is also heard on the track that follows, “Pour Whiskey on My Grave,” written by Jami Grooms and Marty Barber. As Bryant tells me, the moment he heard the song while on stage at a writer’s round with Grooms, he knew he had to record it.
“He always overly praises me from the stage for “Pour Whiskey on My Grave” and it always means the world to me,” Grooms admits to me.
With some help from his co-writers Drew Baldridge, Taylor Phillips, and Chris Rogers, this rugged country singer taps into his romantic side for what is undeniably the sweetest moment on the album. While the realism of “Best Part of Me is You” resonates loudly in lines like, “I can’t count the times I’ve counted on you,” and “Got so much baggage I can’t even close my trunk,” it’s Bryant’s vivid imagery and comparative language within the chorus that really drives home the message that his fiancé has been both his lifeline and saving grace.
“You’re the foot on the break when I’m going too fast/cut to the fuse before it all goes bad/the voice in my head telling me not to/you’re the water to the fire in this cigarette/cap to the whiskey when I can’t quit/And baby girl, you ain’t got a clue/the best part of me is you.”
“I think it’s one of them songs where I feel like every guy has thought those things about their significant other, and every girl wishes that the guy would think that,” Bryant expresses with a chuckle.
Aside from the stellar songwriting featured on Practice What I Preach, fans will also hear the new territory the singer explores vocally thanks to Triplett’s push for him to do some serious belting on this album.
“When it comes to his vocal abilities, he makes things very easy and very difficult at the same time,” the master producer states as he recounts his experience working with Bryant. “Easy because he is such a good singer, and you know the vocal tracks are going to turn out great and gives me the room as a producer to easily push him beyond where his normal comfort zone is. Difficult because he has such a great, unique voice that he can make shitty songs sound good, so you have to really have your ears open when choosing songs.”
When it comes right down to it, Jacob Bryant is one of the most talented, hard-working, and driven artists you’ll find in music today, and no matter who you ask – friends, family, band members, his peers or his fans, they’ll all say the same thing.
“He’s (Jacob) the real McCoy when it comes to doing what he does. He’s one of the best I’ve seen at being so connected with his fans, and that’s such a huge part of his brand as an artist,” McCubbin emphasizes in his email to me.
As Bryant and I wrap up our phone interview we talk about the success he’s had in 2018 and how all of his and his team’s hard work has been paying off. With his songs and music videos hitting streaming and viewing numbers in the millions, and a slew of sold out shows on his touring schedule, and all the hype that’s buzzing around the release of Practice What I Preach on his socials, 2019 is already shaping up to be another huge year for the Georgia native. Don’t be surprised if this is the year that mainstream country finally picks up on all that Jacob Bryant has to offer the genre.
“It’s all kinda moving so fast right now that I don’t even have time to think about it a whole lot. I just gotta hold on and do what I do,” he says as I can hear him smile through the phone.