- Associated Press - Friday, May 23, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Go ahead and congratulate country rocker Brantley Gilbert on his No. 1 hit, “Bottoms Up.” Just don’t buy him a beer.

The Georgia-born singer with the bad boy image is more than two years sober, but his latest hit shows he can still be the life of the party - even without alcohol.

“I am still around it. I still party my butt off, man,” Gilbert said. “It’s just some people can do that and have a good time with that, some folks can’t. I got to a place in my life where I needed to take that friend in my life out, you know what I mean? So I could get back to the real ones.”

He aims to show fans facets of his personality beyond his wallet chains and motorcycle leather image on new album “Just As I Am.” The album, out this week and expected to land near the top of the Billboard 200, includes songs about his faith, falling out of love and reconciling success with his small-town roots.

All these things resonate in his life. He and Jana Kramer recently ended their engagement and Gilbert left Nashville and returned to his hometown of Jefferson. But he’s not done singing songs about drinking, and the album has its share of party songs.

“People ask me, ‘Why do you sing songs about drinking, if you had a problem with it and you don’t drink anymore?’” Gilbert said. “Cause when I drank, I drank 10 times more than the majority of people drink in 10 lifetimes. I earned my stripes. I can sing drinking songs for the rest of my life if I want to.”

Gilbert said the album reflects the structure and direction he’s found in his life, thanks to his true friends, his family and his faith.

“I know who my real friends are. I know where I stand. My outlook, where I am in life, I can’t say that I have been happier,” Gilbert said. “I am not as much of a hot head as I once was, I guess.”

And he’s found the perfect way to keep the fun times rolling by staying sober.

“The benefits of being the sober guy when the real pretty girl needs a ride home from the party,” Gilbert said, “I’ll be your huckleberry.”

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Online: www.brantleygilbert.com

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Follow Kristin Hall on Twitter at https://twitter.com/kmhall

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