Brett Eldredge just released his most personal album to date. His self-titled third album includes 11 vulnerable stories of the heart and one tribute to his brother. It's a raw, at times uncomfortable look at a singer who is very much in the middle of trying to figure it out. 

When it comes to love, Brett Eldredge dithers. He’s a hopeless romantic (his words) who admits he’s slow to submit to hopeless romance. He searching for true love, forever love, timeless love … a love like his mother and father have shared for nearly 40 years.

But he also wants to be able to wake up on any given morning and fly to the Bahamas by himself. This, he recognizes, makes finding a soulmate a needle-in-haystack exercise, and on his new album, he’s figuring it out in realtime. If followed like a story, Brett Eldredge begins with hope before despair, a rebound or two, acceptance and finally a pleading question. It’s like an X-ray of the rising star's (surprisingly) fragile heart.

“I think a record like this is helping me realize that I’ve got to get out of my own way,” Eldredge says. “I’ve just got to continue to open it up a little more.”

Open up more?

It’s a stunning statement from a man who is more accessible on social media than anyone you’ll find in country music. Eldredge was nominated alongside Ariana Grande, Bella Thorne, Kylie Jenner and more for a Teen Choice award in the Choice Snapchatter category, for heaven’s sake. He’ll Instagram live from his bed, looking like he hasn't slept since April. He'll talk without hesitation about embarrassing moments caused by watching his steamy music videos with his mother.

But ask him and he’ll say he’s introverted, guarded and very private. “I get a high from getting in front of people and getting on a microphone and getting on a camera but then I have to disappear to recharge,” he says, sipping some kombucha tea. There's no sense of "show" during this conversation — he’s just a man who’s trying to find the right words to describe the journey he's navigating.

Co-writers on songs from the Brett Eldredge album (Aug. 4, Atlantic Records) describe Eldredge as private, too — or at least not overly revealing. Matt Rogers penned "The Long Way" and the dark, ethereal, overwhelming "Cycles," but even he’s not sure if either came from a personal space for Eldredge. The latter riffs on a lover who keeps coming back.

"I don’t know if Brett’s got one of those people," Rogers, a friend in addition to a co-writer, says. "I didn’t say whether or not I did, we just started running with an idea and that’s what happened."

Songwriter Heather Morgan has known Eldredge since they had to play shows for free pizza and beer. They’ve shared 11 cuts together now, including five on Brett Eldredge. Yes, he’s slow to open up, she says, but he’s working on it. He’s changing.

“On this last record, he kind of went there,” Morgan says. “There weren’t any disclaimers or, I guess excuses in any way … he was very open and wanted to lay it all out there.”

How much do you, an outsider, really know about Brett Eldredge? His hometown (Paris, Ill.), his dog, his love of Frank Sinatra, whiskey and the Chicago Cubs … those things take center-stage in the biography he’s crafted. He's cut many commercially successful, pop-country standards about what love looks like, but while most have topped Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, few have given concrete evidence of a tortured soul.

Eldredge’s most personal release before this album was his debut single, “Raymond,” a song penned about a grandmother who had Alzheimer’s disease. That was seven years ago, and he’s kept details of his family and love life close to the vest since. His rumored girlfriend, the underwear model? He's never talked about her, and you’ve never seen him pose with someone other than his mom on the red carpet. The most recognizable figure from his social media is without a doubt his dog, Edgar, who is so popular, he has his own Instagram account.

But several real women inspired the songs on Brett Eldredge, and when pressed the singer admits there are probably two or three songs that someone will hear and be able to place themselves in. (He says he’s single now.) “And I love that. No one is going to know exactly who that person is, and if they say it’s them, I probably won’t ever say it’s them,” Eldredge admits. His resolution to be more accessible checks itself at details of who, when, how and why.

He does this thing before responding to a question — this thing he does whenever you’ve pressed further than he was expecting — where he laughs, pauses and smiles before winding his answer back to his music, especially the new songs. He hasn’t reached Garth Brooks Level evasion, but it’s clever and crafty nonetheless, and it’s a sign that some of his walls won’t crumble.

"Castaway" is the song on Brett Eldredge that he says was almost too vulnerable to include. It’s also the one that was written when his raw nerves were nearly burning through his skin. The somber, acoustic ballad was penned in realtime, as Eldredge was dealing with heartache.

“I went to the islands and I was sitting on this beach, no one was around,” he says, describing a scene that has him plucking a guitar, considering a riff co-writer Jordan Reynolds had sent him. The poetic, stripped-down demo was too artsy for him to believe in, but Reynolds pushed him to keep going in that style.

“I’ve been burnt and I’ve had moments of clarity where I know what I want, but also I’m guarded," Eldredge insists. "Like I am completely guarded, to the point where I run away from love, and I shield it away, and I get so far away from it that I’m stranded on an island and I realize I’m there by myself and the whole time I needed love, the thing that I was running away from.”

“So you run back toward it and get stuck in the middle.”

"So why do I always try to run away from you / Please don't say a castaway is what I was born to do / I guess I'll always be lost without you," he sings as "Castaway" closes, effectively wrapping the album as a whole.

Unlike Sinatra with a cold, Eldredge with a broken heart won’t devastate everyone around him. The normally gregarious, often boyish singer will do his best to fake it until he can take the stage to pour out his emotions. His tightly-knit inner circle knows, however — Morgan has never seen him cry, not in eight years of knowing him, but she’s perceptive enough to know when his jokes are covering something darker. When he hurts, he turns inward, and then he turns to music. Artists like Ray LaMontagne will get him through a rough night.

"Or I go to an old Sinatra song that is so lonely you can taste the whiskey on his breath as he’s singing," Eldredge says.

Fans won’t ever get to see that side of him on Snapchat — they’ll only hear it when they listen to the songs. The dichotomy plays itself out on this album. "Castaway" and "Cycles" represent the moody corners of his imagination, though "Heartbreaker" might be a better representative of who he is most of the time. It's a devastating breakup song wrapped in pop packaging and performed with a smile. It's a conundrum. Really, it’s a metaphor for the singer himself.

"When I go high, you go low / Steal my dreams on down the road / Like a gypsy on the run / I'm all in and then you're done / Like a beautiful time-waster / You're a shake my world earth-quaker / You're best heartbreaker I know," he sings with unmistakable admiration.

"It was a really interesting perspective to write a song almost glorifying the fact that she’s so good at being a heartbreaker that I can’t blame her, almost,” he says. “It’s kind of like still getting back at them, but it kind of glorifies how almost masterful this person was at breaking my heart."

The artful "No Stopping You" describes another love gone sour. It's a bittersweet, orchestral ballad that puts Eldredge in a lover’s rear view mirror as she drives toward her life goals. It never occurred to him that someone could have, and may have, thought something similar of him as he turned his own steering wheel toward his career, guarding his heart over the last several years.

The new single "The Long Way" is his idealized version of what love should look like. The tender ballad was difficult to write, but gets to what he wants out of love.

“In a world where we don’t have conversations anymore, I want to sit down and have a conversation," Eldredge says. "Put away the phones, put away everything and I want to get to know you as a person. I want to get to know your heart."

But is he ready to show his heart to someone else? "I’m a hopeless romantic where I want to find love, but also, I get my own way 100 percent," he says.

“When he is finally in love with somebody,” Morgan adds, “I hope I get to be part of that record, because that will be really fun to write.”

For now that's a "when" but it may start to feel like an "if." Eldredge admits he gets some pressure to settle down from family, and watching friends with families can sting.

"Just having the simplicity of having that person there to laugh at you when you dance like an idiot and just simply smile when you’re holding their hand ... that sort of stuff," he says. "I guess in a little bit of a way I get a little FOMO but also I’m such an independent person that in the same breath I’m like, 'but i’m gonna get on a plane tomorrow randomly and fly to the Bahamas.'"

Simple, but complicated. That's Brett Eldredge in three words or less.

The Brett Eldredge You Know: In Front of the Camera

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