(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Dierks Bentley has recorded what is undoubtedly the finest album of his career thus far. Subjects and themes that he had explored and had been hinting at in previous works are beginning to be fully realized with Home. Eternal country verities such as home, the road, love, hell-raising, friends, love of family and country -- they're all well-represented here.
Dierks has come a long way since his early Nashville days. Some of us old-timers remember when he was but a mere lad and was working as a researcher in the tape archives at TNN: The Nashville Network. That gave him the opportunity to absorb a rich country music history and legacy and those influences show in his work today.
His new album, Home, due Feb. 7, marks the first time Bentley has recorded a large number of songs he didn't write or co-write. That's a real plus when he can draw from songwriters of the caliber of Gary Nicholson and Jamie Hartford and Jon Randall Stewart. Still, Bentley co-wrote five of the songs here, including the stellar title cut. I've been living with an advance copy of the album for several days, and I'm discovering that the music is sounding better on every listen, and I'm finding the songs very listenable and organic.
In many ways, it's a freewheeling guitar-driven work, with skillful electric and acoustic contributions from the likes of J.T. Corenflos on electric guitar and Bryan Sutton on acoustic guitar.
His last work, the Grammy-nominated, rootsy Up on the Ridge, was a purposely non-mainstream country album that was closer to bluegrass than it was to commercial country. There are very few country artists who would dare take such a risk these days. What Bentley lost in sales figures from that gamble was more than made up for in karma and respect that he gained.
Home edges closer to commercial country but still maintains Bentley's penchant for freely mixing electric and acoustic instruments and arrangements. He sounds as if he has fully and finally settled into his musical skin and is comfortable enough to stretch out and take some more musical risks.
The title song, which would not be a bad fit on a Bruce Springsteen album, was written by Bentley with Brett Beavers and Dan Wilson. It is a tasteful, understated yet proud song of patriotism.
West, on a plane bound west
I see her stretching out below
Land, blessed mother land
The place where I was born
The video for "Home" matches the tone of the song in its quiet pride and celebration of America. Nothing boastful. Just a quiet pride in what we have and who we are as a country, despite our shortcomings.
The album also has its playful side, with a cut like "Diamonds Make Babies." This is the same Dierks who recorded "What Was I Thinkin'." In "Diamonds," he sings the simple refrain: "Diamonds make babies/And babies make mamas/And mamas make daddies make changes they don't always wanta."
Other songs on the album range from the goodtime songs "Am I the Only One," "Gonna Die Young" and "Tip It on Back," with its quavery tremelo guitar work, to a road song such as "Heart of a Lonely Girl," with Sam Bush playing lovely fiddle and Tim O'Brien on mandolin. "The Woods" is a tasteful play on dirt road/pickup truck songs, with its theme of an idyllic rural scene being: "What happens in the woods stays in the woods."
Little Big Town's Karen Fairchild joins Dierks on the haunting "When You Gonna Come Around," and his little daughter Evie sings the reprise of the last cut, "Thinking of You."
Just imagine: country music for the thinking person. What a marvelous concept.
Bentley will feature some songs from the album in his Feb. 2 concert at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, as he begins a tour through North America.