- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Dierks Bentley, “Black” (Capitol Nashville)

On his eighth studio album, country singer Dierks Bentley goes on a wide-ranging if uneven 13-track journey through relationships, applying his gritty country tenor to the adventures of the heart.

The album, he says, explores “breakups, hookups, mess-ups and everything in between, shining a light on the things that happen after the sun goes down.” It comes across as a buffet of relationship songs.

“Black” draws its title from the maiden name of Bentley’s wife, Cassidy, but it doubles to describe the eyes-closed thrill of sexual ecstasy on the title cut. That might qualify as too much information for some listeners, but the music offers a welcome distraction from the libidinous lyrics.

Bentley’s expressive singing is just about the only thing definitively country about this record, which draws as much influence from the anthem-rock stylings of Coldplay and U2 as from anything Merle Haggard ever contemplated.

The first single, “Somewhere on a Beach,” has already gotten attention, but there are better songs here. There’s a funny drunk-dialing song called “What the Hell Did I Say,” and the musically appealing “Different for Girls,” a duet with the fabulous Elle King that traffics in unfortunate stereotypes.

Bentley closes the album with “Light It Up” and “Can’t Be Replaced,” the album’s two best songs. The latter includes pedal steel guitar work by Dan Dugmore, the musical high point of a record that will translate well to the big arenas Bentley plays.

It’s also the high-note conclusion of a storyteller’s arc, one Bentley explains as a journey that “ends with some self-realization and evolvement.”

In other words, in a better place than where he started.

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