In the Fall of 2010, Dierks Bentley played four shows in four nights in New York City that illustrate just how unique he is among contemporary country music artists. First, Dierks the multi-platinum arena headliner played his hits at the Bowery Ballroom. Then Dierks the bluegrass student and devotee performed with the Del McCoury Band, and after that it was a songwriter's night with fellow Music Row tunesmiths and a show with Chris Thile's experimental Punch Brothers.
Probably no other artist on country radio in the past ten years could manage this kind of range and versatility. Especially when one considers the broader record. He's had ten No. 1 singles and written every one of them. He's performed at Lollapalooza, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Bonnaroo and the CMA Music Festival, tailoring his sets to each. His instantly recognizable voice and acoustic/electric hybrid sound have propelled him to membership in the Grand Ole Opry and, in 2011, a performance for the President at the White House. All made possible by his devotion to developing all sides of his musicianship.
Dierks has embraced musical diversity in his recording career as well, as his current album Home demonstrates. The project plunges him back into the country mainstream after a successful sojourn in bluegrass and roots music with the acclaimed and Grammy-nominated Up On The Ridge album. Moreover, working with some of Nashville's most innovative studio musicians, Home finds Dierks singing over some new sonic textures and, for the first time, interpreting a few songs that he didn't write himself.
"I definitely stepped away from the commercial country world for a little while," says Dierks, noting that his last such album, Feel That Fire, album came out in early 2009. "That seems like a really long time ago. So this record feels fresh. It doesn't feel like a continuation of any other project or series of recordings."
But if there's newness, there's also a distinct familiarity about how Dierks and his music are connecting with fans. This sixth album of his Capitol Records Nashville career produced a No. 1 hit even before its release. That album-opening song, "Am I The Only One," is a rallying cry to the fun-loving Dierks army. And it sets a tone - a good-time song kicking off a good-time record. Fans have already been enjoying tunes like "5-1-5-0" and "Diamonds Make Babies" in shows. The recorded versions will no doubt be spilling out of car windows as the weather warms up in 2012.
Home's title track and second No. 1 song gives the mostly light-hearted album a vital, spiritual anchor. The song expresses pride and patriotism without sentimentality or illusions. It unflinchingly speaks of America's "scars" and her tensions while illuminating those as sources of strength. The writing session took place just four days after the shooting in Tucson, AZ (Dierks's home state), which took six lives and injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. That tragedy did not inspire the song by any means, but it did cast a shadow and influence Dierks and his co-writers, once some opening lines popped out that seemed to speak to the vitality of being an American in these challenging times.
"It's really hard to write a patriotic song," confesses Dierks. "But you want to. It's something I think about all the time. I love the history of country music and I love the history of our country." He seems to have pulled it off. The song impressed critics and earned a call from National Public Radio. Dierks was able to tell that audience that the aim was "to be inspiring and hopeful, but also address the realities of what's going on." Elsewhere on radio, country stations embraced the risky single, despite its departures from any flag-waving formula.
The rest of the project is divided evenly between songs Dierks co-wrote and those he found on an unprecedented song hunt. From the former category we hear "The Woods," an homage to another side of home, the privacy afforded by those little-known and mysterious backroads and fire circles where friends gather and rites of passage take place. Dierks also co-wrote "Breathe You In," a pure act of romance and sonic seduction that continues the tone set by the multi-week chartopper "Come A Little Closer" a few years ago. And closing the album, Dierks and Jim Beavers conceived "Thinking Of You," a connecting, reassuring song that comes honestly from a man who's away from his family more than he'd like. Daughter Evie makes a brief guest appearance at the end, singing the record's appropriate final words: "Daddy's home."