ToC Critic’s Pick: Dierks Bentley, ‘Black’
Dierks Bentley's Black album relies on a few candles to light an otherwise dark-as-night project. Few albums have been so appropriately named. Black finds Bentley, yearning, hurting, weeping and loving.
And drinking. There may not be a true beer-in-the-air party song a la “Drunk on a Plane” on Bentley’s eighth studio album, but he gets plenty boozy in its sequel “Somewhere on the Beach,” as well as drunk-dialing, sneaky “What the Hell Did I Say.”
“Freedom” is a song that ties everything together. The thumping country-rock anthem offers lyrics to gnaw on inside a big contagious production. Later “Mardi Gras” — a jazzy love metaphor that features Trombone Shorty’s wobbly sounds — does something similar, and on paper may be a better of the two songs. It’s hard to deny a song called “Freedom” however, and Bentley’s live fans don't. It’s a hit at concerts.
The title track, “I’ll Be the Moon” and “Why Do I Feel” are the soul of this project, while bittersweet ballads like “Different for Girls” and “Can’t Be Replaced” are the heart. Like he did on songs like "Riser" and “I’ll Hold On,” Bentley closes his eyes and bares his emotional scars. Each is personal. A red-hot love song ("Black") is as convincing as a cheater’s torment (“I’ll Be the Moon”) and slow country heartbreaker.
“So why do I feel, like you’re slipping away / So dark in my heart girl / Too many times torn apart girl / I wanna believe, what you’re trying to say / Girl I’m trying to listen don’t want my suspicions to drive you away,” he sings on "Why Do I Feel."
Every song plays upon one of Bentley’s emotions. There’s pleasing diversity on Black, and a true exploration of sound without straying too far from the sparse, bluegrass-tinged style he’s slowly cultivated since Up On the Ridge.
"Somewhere on a Beach" is the lead single from Black, and while Bentley's two previous singles have been slower, more introspective songs, this track is more reflective of "Drunk on a Plane."
One day before releasing Black, Bentley revealed that "Different for Girls" would be the follow-up single to this No. 1 hit. Elle King joins him on the mid-tempo cut about how women love different. He told Taste of Country why he went after the rocker:
Ross Copperman returns to produce his second Dierks Bentley album. Copperman was at the helm of Riser, the singer's most successful album to date. This came after six albums produced by Brett Beavers.
Bentley says the songs on Black will continue to be deeply personal and perhaps even darker than those on Riser. That the album's title is also his wife's maiden name.
"The songs on Black range from the lonesomeness of an impossible relationship to ones that describe the feeling of finding that person that makes you forget the one that broke your heart," the 40-year-old says.
1. "Black" (Ashley Gorley, Ross Copperman, Dierks Bentley) — The sexy love song everyone expected from this title track. It's a beat-heavy song that's a fine representative of what's to come.
2. "Pick Up" (Jaren Johnston, Jimmy Robbins, Andrew Dorff) — Sonically this song feels like "Somewhere on the Beach," but lyrically it's about getting back together with an ex.
3. "I'll Be the Moon" (feat. Maren Morris) (Heather Morgan, Matt Dragstrem, Ryan Hurd) — One of the darkest cheating songs you'll ever hear, made better by a riveting music video.
4. "What the Hell Did I Say" (Copperman, Josh Kear, Chris Tompkins) — An uptempo jam with a variety of influences.
5. "Somewhere on a Beach" (Michael Tyler, Jaron Boyer, Alexander Palmer, Dave Kuncio, Josh Mirenda)
6. "Freedom" (Gorley, Copperman, Bentley) — Another drum-heavy jam that celebrates freedom in all its various forms. It could be this album's "Home," but it's more arresting.
7. "Why Do I Feel" (Dan Wilson, Copperman, Bentley) — Slow and dark, this ballad finds Bentley asking why he always messes with something good.
8. "Roses and a Time Machine" (Luke Dick, Adam James) — A country-rocker that will sound great live in 2016. Bentley sings about wishing he could go back in time and ask forgiveness. There's even a clever Back to the Future reference.
9. "All the Way to Me" (Dick, Scooter Carusoe, Bentley) — A great beat with familiar rhymes.
10. "Different for Girls" (feat. Elle King) (Shane McAnally, J.T. Harding) — The undeniable standout track on Black. Bentley and King's voices mix like bourbon and sweet tea. It's a sensitive lyric that will hit fans in the heart.
11. "Mardi Gras" (feat. Trombone Shorty) (Natalie Hemby, Steven Moakler, Bentley) — Natalie Hemby's backing vocals standout on a song that compares a girl to the wild time at Mardi Gras. It's an original lyric on an arrangement that will sound great live.
12. "Light It Up" (Jessi Alexander, Copperman, Bentley) — A big, anthemic love song.
13. "Can't Be Replaced" (Hillary Lindsey, Luke Laird, Bentley) — The song that will make you cry. This slow, introspective album closer mentions his dog Jake during the final verse, and Bentley explains that he can't listen without tearing up:
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