- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2014


It’s tempting to lump Dierks Bentley into the generation of “bro-country” acts that have taken over Nashville and the charts.

He’s scruffy but good-looking. He’s got a song or two about pickup trucks. And his live shows are as much rock ‘n’ roll spectacle as country performance.

But while he shares the charts with edgy “bros” such as Brantley Gilbert, whose hip-hop-infused ode to binge drinking, “Bottom’s Up,” is topping the country charts, the 38-year-old Mr. Bentley’s lyrical aim is, well, a little higher.

The Arizona native, who releases his seventh major-label studio album, “Riser” (Capitol Nashville) on Tuesday, is percolating around the top of the country singles charts with “I Hold On,” an urgent, arena-ready anthem that celebrates, among other things, “The things I believe in / My faith, your love, our freedom.”

“It’s about my truck, about my guitar, and it’s a reflection of these values that we all have,” he told ABC Radio. “But it’s also a love song to my wife. You know, so it’s very personal at the end.”

Only in country music, Mr. Bentley notes, can love for an old truck and an old guitar serve as a metaphor for a man’s devotion to his wife.

In his rich, deep voice and his patriotic bent, Mr. Bentley recalls the great Aaron Tippin, who hit it big in the 1990s with red, white and blue hits such as “You’ve Got to Stand for Something” and “I Got It Honest.” (It is interesting that both country stars are pilots.)

Mr. Bentley has three young children, and he’s said the new album is, in part, a meditation on the contradictions of life on the road as a musician and the responsibilities of being a family man — as well as, inevitably, the loss of his father in 2012.

“He’s always been my biggest influence my biggest hero,” Mr. Bentley says of his father, Leon. “Really, the reason I even got into country music was because he listened to country music.”

That sense of introspection is in evidence throughout “Riser,” especially in darker tracks such as “Bourbon in Kentucky,” a brooding duet with fellow Grammy winner Kasey Musgraves, and the chilling “Here on Earth,” in which Mr. Bentley painfully questions his faith in the face of tragedies such as the Sandy Hook school shooting.

“There’s not a stone in my heart I’ve left unturned / Not a piece of my soul that I ain’t searched / The only answer I found for all this hurt is there ain’t no answer here on earth.”

Those kinds of challenging, off-center lyrics are hard to find elsewhere on the Nashville charts.

But Mr. Bentley is accustomed to taking commercial risks.

He shook up Nashville in 2010 with “Up on the Ridge,” an unapologetically authentic bluegrass album, recorded with alt-country stars such as Jamey Johnson and Miranda Lambert, that earned him Country Music Association and Grammy nominations for album of the year.

His artistic gambles have paid off over the years with 10 chart-topping singles and bushels of Grammy nominations.

“I Hold On” already stands out on country radio playlists dominated by a seemingly endless loop of songs about drinking, cruising dirt roads and partying.

That said, Mr. Bentley isn’t oblivious to the current state of country. “Back Porch,” his contribution to the goofy country party genre, is tacked onto the back end of “Riser.”

Mr. Bentley said the album needed some lighter moments, including the George Jones-ish “Drunk on a Plane,” to make the heavier songs easier to take.

“I didn’t want it all to be about the time my dad died,” he told Rolling Stone. “A good country music record has to have lots of other stuff. It’s hard to listen to the dark stuff all the time.”

On Wednesday, look for Mr. Bentley and his band on “The Tonight Show” with its new host, Jimmy Fallon.

He’s also set to play the 20,000-seat outdoor venue Farm Bureau Live at Virginia Beach on May 16, with more tour dates expected soon.

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