Dierks Bentley 'Riser' - Capitol Nashville

If you look at the covers of Modern Day Drifter and Riser you will see the face of a man who has grown up; one who has seen birth as well as death and is at a point where he is assessing his life to date. Bentley’s career means that he is still a drifter but he is a man now with a home and a family. He loves the road and he loves his family life and he now has to balance the two, knowing that each has it's place even if each has an effect on the other.

Production sounds and mainstream country radio also put their demands on the music. Bentley has made no secret of his love for bluegrass music and just sitting and learning in the Station Inn,  but these are different times and country music is now, for many, an offshoot of hard and southern rock. More Hank Jr than Hank Sr. It makes you wonder what this younger audience would make of Jason and The Scorchers.

Much of this news direction leaves me cold but recently albums by the likes of Gary Allen and this new album from Bentley seem to have got the balance better. Don't get me wrong; I come from a rock background so when I listen to country music I want to hear, for the most part, country music as I recognise it, not watered down big hair-metal. But I keep an open mind and listen.

On this album Bentley works with Ross Copperman and he delivers a powerful sound and a set of songs that suit Bentley and where he is right now. Some of the songs seem like they're chasing radio's current obsessions like Pretty Girls. Yet that is a song co-written by Bentley, Jessi Alexander and Jon Randall. Here on Earth, on the other hand, talks about the reality of life on earth in which  there are no answers a lot of the time,  and hope and faith are crucial to survival.

Other songs like Drunk on a Plane and Bourbon In Kentucky are forged in the fire of the honky-tonk's cure-all pain relief delivered from the bottom of a glass. OK, they don't sound like pure honky-tonk, but offer instead an update on what was a country music staple theme, but in a contemporary way. The sound is delivered by a set of fine players including Dan Dugmore, Mickey Raphael, Bryan Sutton and electric guitarists Jedd Hughes, Kenny Greenberg and Charlie Worsham among others while the background vocalists include Kacey Musgraves and Chris Stapelton, all players who all understand the past and the future.

Dierks Bentley is to be congratulated for gathering all the various music influences that he has grown up with into a mature album. Back Porch updates the bluegrass sounds of Bentley’s Up On The Ridge album by adding some stinging guitar to the banjo sounds. The album closes with a quieter, more acoustic sounding Hurt Somebod,y a song about a heartbreak where the singer hopes the lady in question will end up having a relationship, even it will end up hurting him. There is much on Riser that comes from the heart and delivers it with a sound that is a development of the music Bentley has made from the start which makes an album that is about him at this time and about the fans who have grown with him.

Dierks Bentley 'Home' Capitol/Humphead

After the bluegrass base of Bentley's last album Up On The Ridge he has returned to more familiar territory here. Produced by Brett Bevers and Luke Wooten the sound kicks it up a notch or do with Bentley's high-energy take on his brand of contemporary country that while it has it's roots in traditionalism will never be mistaken for a album recorded in the 50s. Which is something that mainstream radio will applaud. As will his many fans. The themes are about having a good time, about relationships and what it means to be at home. As Dierks notes in the booklet home, for him, is many things - his family, his friends, his country or his old D-28. A mix of things that make you feel safe and give you pleasure. The title track itself has been the subject of some controversy but aside from that is song fused with those sentiments on a song that is more reflective that the more good-time songs like Am I The Only One or Tip It On Back. The song selection finds Bentley as co-writer on half the songs, the others are new songs from outside sources picked to fit an overall mood. Most of the songs are about lost or found love and desire. These are themes that relate to Bentley's audience if not to Bentley himself. Home will be a success, it represents the more acceptable sound of major label country-based music. It fuses elements of the music that Dierks Bentley loves which includes country, bluegrass, roots and stadium rock. It suits the place he is right now. The a-team players do exactly what they are supposed to do and many of these songs will become staples in his live set. Home is where the heart is they say and Dierks Bentley is following his heart. You can decide if you also want to follow or not.

Dierks Bentley 'Up On The Ridge' Capitol/Humphead

This is an album that Bentley both wanted and needed to make. On his arrival in Nashville he spent time down in the Station Inn listening and absorbing the welcome harmonies of bluegrass. There it mingled with his love of classic country and righteous rock. He has included bluegrass-styled tracks on his albums before but here he has delivered an album that is rooted in the music he heard delivered by the likes of The Sidemen and while it may not exactly fit the more rigid demands of the bluegrass purist it will delight many. The key however is if it will please those who have previously been very taken with his hi-octane radio friendly country. Dierks Bentley is well aware of the need to grow, to move on and develop his music and Up On The Ridge does that. It does it very well. Now it just needs to sell. With slightly left field producer Jon Randall Stewart at the helm this album has a more organic sound and provides Bentley with the backdrop to deliver his best vocal performance to date. He is surrounded with a fine bunch of players, harmony vocalist and guest singers. They all add much to the proceedings without overwhelming the man whose name is on the cover. Those friends include Bryan Sutton, Del, Ronnie and Rob McCoury. The Punch Brothers, Kris Kristofferson, Vince Gill and many more. The songs are a mix of co-writes with producer Stewart, Tim O'Brien and Angelo as well as songs from writers of note such as Bob Dylan, Shawn Camp, Kristofferson and some upcoming Irish band called U2 (Pride - In The Name Of Love). There's a lot to like here with Senor, Fiddlin' Around, Love Grows Wild and Down In The Mine immediately hitting home on what is a very strong and satisfying album that has already gained much critical kudos.