Four songs on Dierks Bentley's new album Riser make him think about his late father. They aren't necessarily about him, but "I Hold On," "Here on Earth," "Bourbon in Kentucky" and "Damn These Dreams" just remind him of his dad.
Bentley made sure the album wasn't just one bummer after another, though.
"It's more of a snapshot of the past two years and not one particular moment that's just about my dad," Bentley told me during a Thursday night (Feb. 27) album release show in Chicago. "That would've been too dark. It would've been kind of a drag of a record, and he wouldn't have wanted that."
His father Leon, who passed away on June 1, 2012, loved George Strait and Hank Williams. But mostly, he just loved country music and always had country radio on in his car.
"He loved that even if you didn't know a song, you could almost guess the next line," Bentley said. "He loved the simplicity of it. You could always be singing along to it."
That simplicity made Bentley think it would be easy to write country songs.
"Then when I got to Nashville, I found out that to write a good song that ends up like that, you have to write it, destroy it, tear it apart and put it all back together again," he said. "It's really hard to make it look that easy."
But once Bentley did get the hang of songwriting, his father was his biggest fan.
"My dad loved 'My Last Name,'" Bentley said of the single featured on his 2003 debut album. "I was changing it a little and trying to make a bluegrassy version of it, and he did not like that at all. He liked the original. And he was right."
And when Bentley had the chance to play at the ACM Awards for the first time, his parents came out to Las Vegas for the show.
"I have a great picture of them from that awards show," he said. "They both have these huge smiles on their faces. And my dad was in a bolo tie."
That must've been his Sunday best, though, because it sounds like Bentley's dad dressed more casually on most days.
"I used to work at TNN (The Nashville Network), and I remember sending a TNN hat back home. My dad wore that hat every day. Until the very end. That and a Capitol Records sweatshirt that I sent him.
"He drove the same cars, wore the same things all the time, kind of like me. I guess I get that from him."