The country star with the unforgettable name has been enjoying an upwardly rising curve ever since he was snapped up by UMG Nashville.They released his groundbreaking and largely self-penned major label debut in 2003. Since that auspicious beginning, which provided him with his first #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, the infectiously melodic “What Was I Thinkin’”, Dierks has visited the top slots so regularly that his Platinum selling discs and string of awards have elevated him into the upper echelons of the musical area he graces. Modern Day Drifter and Long Trip Alone cemented Bentley’s reputation while his video smashes include the raucous country rocker “5-1-5-0”, “Drunk On A Plane” and “I Hold On” all songs that reflect the narrative breadth of the man’s writing. Whether he’s dealing with family grief or playing fast and loose Dierks conveys an emotional range that gives his songs real depth. He has also been savvy enough to freshen his approach when necessary. In the wake of a hits collection Dierks started moving into the pure country of Feel That Fire and followed that with his bluegrass and Americana classic, Up On The Ridge, a disc that includes some choice covers and collaborations with Alison Krauss, Chris Thile and Miranda Lambert. The presence of Del McCoury Band members Rob and Ronny McCoury added real gravitas.
2016 will be a strong year for this talented artist. He releases his new album Black and co-hosts the ACM Awards. His Somewhere On A Beach tour follows another return to Europe – his third – in April (he sold out the O2 Arena in 23014) with support from Tucker Beathard. We can’t wait.
Born Frederick Dierks Bentley in Phoenix, Arizona, November 1975 this most good-natured of country stars is a modernist with a full knowledge of his music’s roots. Known as Dierks professionally (it’s his material great-grandmother’s maiden name) he is a graduate from Vanderbilt University in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee. An avowed fan of Bruce Springsteen he immersed himself in archival work at The Nashville Network in the early 2000s and suitably inured he decided to make a foray into the business with an independent album for Dangling Rope called Don’t Leave Me In Love. The album produced radio friendly material like “Whiskey Tears” and “Bartenders, Barstool, Barmaids” that was renamed “Bartenders, Etc.” and included on his first album for Capitol Nashville, the excellent self-titled Dierks Bentley. This 2003 release, produced by Brett Beavers, really established him with “What Was I Thinkin’”, “My Last Name” and “”How Am I Doin” initiating his story-telling persona and also gave him the chance to shine in the ever important country video format. The latter track also made a star out of if his dog Jake while he dropped a hint as to his future direction with the fine “Train Travellin’” that featured the Del McCoury band.
Modern Day Drifter continued in the same vein: strong in-house writing, Beavers’ production and the main man’s fetching baritone being a given. With his rugged good looks being no impediment Dierks’ star rose higher with his second Platinum attempt and two more #1s in the guise of “Come a Little Closer” and “Settle for a Slowdown”, tough romances both.
“Every Mile a Memory” (2006) did the trick again as it lead off Long Trip Alone, an album full of authentic country sounds and specialist players like Aubrey Haynie, a bluegrass fiddle and mandolin expert, and Gary Morse, on lap steel and pedal steel guitar. Popular enough to warrant Greatest Hits/Every Mile a Memory (2008), Dierks mixed and matched his growing list of hits with five new live recordings and stepped up to the plate to provide some thrilling electric guitar work.
Given that he sees himself as an ongoing link - "I feel like I'm trying to be a bridge between what's left of country music and the future of it” – it was a pleasant surprise to hear him co-write the song “Pray” with Rodney Crowell for the next album, Feel That Fire. Other standouts here are the Grammy nominated “Beautiful World” featuring Patty Griffin and the bluegrass shout out “Last Call”, featuring Ronnie McCoury.
Being in a position to both satisfy his fan base and take a few risks he made Up on the Ridge, an aesthetically pleasing selection of bluegrass and beyond. Visiting Bob Dylan’s "Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)" and “Bottle to the Bottom”, written by and featuring Kris Kristofferson, our man showed he did know the right stuff and he coloured his palette with A-list players like Sam Bush, Chris Eldridge and multiple ACM award winning fiddler Stuart Duncan. It was also a smart move to include a sweet version of U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and while he has no need for gushing reviews he got them anyway.
The chart topping Home is back to more usual Bentley business but still a great album. TC3’s Jaren Johnston adds percussion and BVs here while noted pedal steel guitar wizard Dan Dugmore is always worth hearing. The Bentley-Beavers team are on top form again and three more #1s – “Am I The Only One”, “Home” and “5-1-5-0” – and the Country and Cold Cans festival tour maintained a fabulous strike rate.
Young producer Ross Copperman joined up for Riser, his seventh top ten album, and one that contains a telling combination of roughness and balladry, or both in the case of “Bourbon in Kentucky” and the frenzied melancholy of “Drunk on a Plane”. If you have a mind to discover Dierks you could do worse than start here and work backwards because this is an exceptional set.
With Black to come this summer and the accompanying Somewhere on a Beach Tour in full swing Dierks Bentley is rolling alone as smoothly as his surname suggests. Like his song says, he’s free and easy and down the road he goes.
For a decade, every single Dierks Bentley release placed at least in Billboard's Country Top 20, usually making it to the Top Ten. That streak came to an end in 2013, when "Bourbon in Kentucky" -- the first single from his in-the-works seventh album, Riser, and a duet with 2013's hot star Kacey Musgraves to boot -- stiffed, going no further than 40 on the country charts. Such a thing doesn't happen to a big country star, so action needed to be taken: Bentley revised Riser, adding some levity to an album that nevertheless remains highly contemplative. As Bentley notes in his brief liner notes for the album, he made Riser during a period when his father died and his first son was born, so the fact so much of the album is reflective is little surprise, but Riser remains subdued even as Dierks loosens up: "Drunk on a Plane" isn't raucous; it's a diligent march that suits its tale of post-breakup revelry. Apart from "Sounds of Summer" and "Back Porch," two not-bad attempts to reckon with bro-country, this is all mature and measured stadium-sized modern country, with the guitars not twanging but echoing like the Edge. Riser isn't an outsider's manifesto, it's the work of a guy taking stock as he's facing middle age, reconciling his dreams with his reality, finding strength in his family and the music he loves. With all these big issues, it's no wonder that Riser doesn't quite feel brimming with lighthearted singles, but it's a sturdy, often absorbing record from a singer who is determined to be in it for the long haul.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
It's a sign of Dierks Bentley's increasing stardom and clout that he has a writing credit on all 11 songs on his third album, 2006's Long Trip Alone. Not every country singer/songwriter gets a chance to do that, but not every singer/songwriter scores a bona fide hit with his sophomore set, and Bentley's 2005 Modern Day Drifter was that, reaching the top of the Billboard country charts and spawning several hits, including the number one "Settle for a Slowdown." Such success allows an artist to set his own pace, at least a little bit, and Bentley was already showing signs of being a headstrong troubadour on Modern Day Drifter, consciously referring -- both lyrically and musically -- to such classic country mavericks as Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard throughout the record. Given these deliberate allusions to such musical rebels, it would made some sense if Bentley followed their path and crafted a third album that was tougher, wilder, rougher than his breakthrough, but Long Trip Alone isn't that at all: it's a slick, streamlined version of his hit album. Keep in mind that slick and streamlined aren't the same thing as soulless; rather, the polish of Long Trip Alone is a sign of Bentley's increased confidence and professionalism, and how he wants to stay at the top now that he's gotten there. As such, the album is so clean it sparkles -- all the better for it to fit into mainstream country radio -- but beneath that sheen, Bentley remains a little restless, even risky. He'll bring the Grascals to play on "Prodigal Son's Prayer," letting them steer the duet toward their bluegrass roots; he'll explain that "The Heaven I'm Headed To" has a place for both priests and prostitutes; and he'll play tribute to his honky tonk beginnings, on "Band of Brothers," which isn't only a musical tip of the hat to hardcore country, but also a sly salute to his fellow road-warriors. But the main impression of Long Trip Alone isn't that restlessness; it's how Bentley can come across as a entirely mainstream country act without losing his sense of self. He's a savvy songwriter, particularly when he's slyly incorporating elements of rock or pop into his country (check out the anthemic opening of "Trying to Stop Your Leaving" for the former, "Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)" for the latter), managing to be commercial without being crass, coming across as sentimental, not saccharine, on his earnest ballads. At times, it seems like he could use a little bit more heft or grit in his voice, yet his simple, straight-ahead singing enhances his Everyman qualities and helps make him and his music all the more likeable. Perhaps Long Trip Alone may disappoint fans who were looking for his next album to be an unapologetic hard country record, but in a way, this is more interesting: Dierks Bentley has kept that spirit and put it within the confines of mainstream country, resulting in one of the livelier and better country records of 2006 and one that proves he is indeed a major talent.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
There is apparently no limit to the number of Opry-friendly, down-home, good-looking crooners that Nashville can wrap in jeans and put forth in any given year. Like most of these, Dierks Bentley seems amiable enough, and, on this debut album, he makes each required stop on the stardom trail: rascally, boot-scoot humor ("Bartenders, Etc."), gauzy nostalgia ("My Last Name"), honky tonk swagger ("I Bought the Shoes"), boozy self-pity ("Whiskey Tears"), goofy outtake endings ("How Am I Doin'"), and, in "Distant Shore," an actually fairly complex purée of romantic revenge, poetic intoxication, and Biblical allusion. Aside from strident patriotism, which somehow slipped through the net, that pretty much covers all the bases. Bentley pulls it all off with a rawboned delivery that skims the surface of the genre without leaving a ripple of individualism in its wake. The last number, "Train Traveling," provides an unexpected jolt by pairing Bentley with the Del McCoury Band, whose intensity is evident from the artful accelerando that kicks off the song. But on every other track, Bentley is backed by competent and undistinguished players who know how to breeze through songs that value the deft lick and clever wordplay more than suggestions of depth or insight. This young singer clearly deserves whatever success he achieves for making all the right moves and offending no one aside from the odd disgruntled critic.
Words: Robert L. Doerschuk
Pivoting off his 2010 bluegrass detour Up on the Ridge, Dierks Bentley returns to the well-oiled modern country of Feel That Fire. If that 2009 effort seemed a little stiff in its calculations, Bentley is looser here and more muscular, too, something apparent from the grinding guitars of the opening "Am I the Only One." Despite this kick, Home often winds up on territory that's as sentimental as its name suggests, rhapsodizing about the comfort of home, love, and family, going so far as to have his child murmur the melody of "Thinking of You" as the album is winding to a conclusion. Here, Bentley borders on pure kitsch and it's not the only country corn here, not with the cautionary tale of how "Diamonds Make Babies" and Dierks asking for somebody to call the po-pop on "5-1-5-0." Catchy as they are, these numbers are a shade too cutesy, salvaged by the inherent grit in Bentley's voice and the clean propulsion of the production. Like Feel That Fire, Home does tilt a little too closely to the slick side of things but it has a sturdier foundation: the songs are overall stronger, the performances hit hard, it doesn’t waste time, it gets to the point even when the point is a little silly. These tougher remnants of the rootsy, down-home Up on the Ridge are enough to turn Home into a record that resonates longer and louder than Feel That Fire even when it shares much of the same radio-ready DNA.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Dierks Bentley drifted into predictability on his fourth album Feel That Fire, so his detour into progressive bluegrass on 2010’s Up on the Ridge is a bit of shock. Ditching much of the polish and precision that encumbered Feel That Fire, Bentley strips back to acoustics and brings in a host of guests, notably the Punch Brothers, who play on a quarter of the album, Miranda Lambert, Kris Kristofferson, and Del McCoury, whose keening voice soars on a cover of U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love).” The very presence of a U2 song suggests that this is not a traditional bluegrass album, either in its content -- Bentley balances a sharp version of “Rovin’ Gambler” with a terrific rearrangement of Bob Dylan’s “Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)” -- or in its approach, as he sometimes puts picking in the backseat, letting the instruments strum sweetly as he croons. These cuts may not have the snap of classic bluegrass, but they do give Up on the Ridge a sense of country crossover, illustrating that Bentley is shrewd enough to walk the line between commercial and artistic concerns, but the best testament to his skill arrives on numbers like the loping, bluesy “Bad Angel” (the Lambert duet), the sprightly “You’re Dead to Me,” and flinty, funny “Bottle to the Bottom” (with Kristofferson), songs that draw from tradition with a modern sensibility, illustrating Bentley’s skillful synthesis of past and present.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
There's little question that Dierks Bentley has good taste, as well as a burning desire to be part of the tradition of rough, rugged, and sensitive hard country singers. In particular, he styles himself after Merle and Waylon, two influences that were apparent on his eponymous 2003 debut but come to the forefront on his 2005 follow-up, Modern Day Drifter. Even the title of the record signals Bentley's intention to be a ramblin' man for the 2000s, and the music consciously echoes not just the past, but ramblin' man classics -- the first single, "Lot of Leavin' Left to Do," is styled after Waylon's "This Time" and "Good Man Like Me" deliberately mimics Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On." This isn't a drag on the record -- if anything slows it down, it's the occasional too-tasteful ballad, as well as such cloying, product placement-filled stabs at contemporary country as "Cab of My Truck" -- because Bentley has a nice, strong country croon and delivers this straight-ahead neo-traditionalist sound pleasantly and earnestly. He doesn't have much flair, though, as either a singer or writer. Instead of being a true ramblin' man and forging his own direction, he follows the path that Merle and Waylon created, never stamping it with much of his own personality. This makes for some good music, of course, but it's a bit of a mixed blessing that Bentley is at his best when he's following the blueprint of his heroes to a T. Next time around, maybe he can draw inspiration from the spirit of his idols and put his own unmistakable personal stamp on his music instead of just crafting his record to sound like something they might have recorded.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Dierks Bentley is one of Nashville's best singer/songwriters of the 2000s, and part of his appeal lies in his casual display of his deep roots, how he built upon Waylon and Merle without ever seeming overly indebted by their legacy; it made him sound grounded, while his sentiments and crisp, clean sound made him seem modern. Bentley doesn't abandon this synthesis on his fourth studio album, Feel That Fire, but he does streamline and simplify it, reining in the ragged country elements and revving up the fist-pumping guitars in an apparent attempt to push beyond the country charts and into some kind of heartland rock crossover. This isn't a huge leap for Bentley, who has never been a roughneck, but he's best when he gets back to his roots and sounds as inventive and vigorous as he did his previous three albums -- when he teams up for a duet with Patty Griffin on "Beautiful World," when he co-writes with Rodney Crowell on "Pray," and, especially, when he teams up with Ronnie McCoury and his band for a rampaging, intoxicating bluegrass closer, "Last Call." These are full-blooded, substantive songs, the kind that linger in the memory.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine