Dierks Bentley Talks Having To Leave Nashville To Fall In Love With It Again

Dierks Bentley's 10th album "GRAVEL & GOLD" will be available Friday.

Dierks Bentley wanted to move west for 15 years before he got the chance. He hung a backpack by his door in the Nashville-area home he shared with his wife Cassidy and their three children – Evie, Jordan and Knox. Someone wrote the word west on a piece of Duct Tape and stuck it to the bag as motivation to get there.

But the Bentleys were entrenched. The country singer had nine albums on his resume, a popular, entertaining '90s country cover band, songs at the top of the country radio charts, and he was selling out arenas. It was 2019. The Arizona native was stuck – and he was drained. When his family finally made it out west, the pandemic struck and they lived in Colorado for one year.

"Honestly, it was a really great year for me," Bentley said. "My stoke factor was really high every day. You wake up, and there's mountains. I loved the school my kids were going to, and they're just outdoors a lot. I'm outdoors all the time. I just was loving being out there. In a weird way, it was a dream come true."

While Bentley's friends used the pandemic-enforced time off to plunge themselves into songwriting -sometimes writing double or triple albums. That wasn't the path he took. He said he "accidentally wrote two great songs" in that period. The creative break did him a lot of good. When his family wanted to move back to Nashville, he went begrudgingly. However, he fell in love with Music City again on arrival. That experience was the impetus for the title track of his 10th studio album, "GRAVEL & GOLD," which will be available Friday, Feb. 24.

"It was just (love for Nashville) in a way that never would've happened if I'd been here the whole time," Bentley said. "We moved to a house closer to downtown. I can ride my bike to the Ryman. I can ride my bike to Station Inn. We have great neighbors. I've been more in the community now than I've ever been since I've lived here."

The singer said he remembered how good country music has been to him over the years. He reconnected with all the friends he's made in music, the studio musicians, the songwriters and enjoyed getting back into the recording studio.

"The attitude of gratitude was pervasive when I was going in to make the record," he said.

Bentley self-produced the album – a first for him - and crafted a unique and compelling commercial mix of traditional country and bluegrass that feels like a natural stretch from his 2018 album "The Mountain."

The album's tracklist includes "Gold," from which the album takes its name, "High Note" (featuring Billy Strings) with Jerry Douglas on dobro, Sam Bush on mandolin, Charlie Worsham on guitar and Bryan Sutton on guitar and banjo and "Cowboy Boots" (featuring Ashley McBryde). His favorite songs on the album include "Still," which he says is the most personal. "Something Real," he said, speaks about the project's goals. And, "Same Ol' Me," he said, is just the truth.

"No matter how much you keep trying to do things different, you still go back to being the same old guy that loves being on stage with this band and having a few drinks and singing for people," Bentley said. "It's kind of simple what we do. We get pretty complicated about it all, but that's why I moved to town- to get on a bus, hang out with the band, play country music, and drink a few beers. It's still the same."

He wishes "High Note," a thriving, fiery string jam that shares joint admiration for marijuana, could be on country radio. While the song bleeds bluegrass, the musicians' skill level transcends genres and speaks to players and fans in the rare universal language that emerges when musicians are inarguably elite.

"That's what Billy Strings does," Bentley said. "He's just playing three-chord bluegrass, but the metalheads love him. The Grateful Dead people love him. Phish fans love him. Bluegrass fans love him. He just has a way of bringing a real rock vibe to bluegrass music."

"GRAVEL & GOLD" took three years for Bentley to complete. He had a couple of false starts and wrote a pile of songs he considers B+ content but weren't strong enough to earn a spot on his 10th album. When he originally started the album, people still had to COVID test and wear masks in the recording studio – a vibe that didn't feed Bentley's creativity. Then he started trying to record before he had all of the songs together. None of it worked.

"I love that Dierks wasn't afraid to start over twice," said Worsham, who co-wrote "High Note," plays on the song, the album, and will tour with Bentley in support of "GRAVEL & GOLD." "To me, one mark of a great record is whether or not someone else could have made the same album. I don't think anyone but Dierks could have made 'GRAVEL & GOLD.'"

Worsham described "GRAVEL & GOLD" as a "full-circle collection of songs and sounds from a guy who honors country's bluegrass roots."

Cindy Mabe, CEO and chair of Universal Music Group Nashville which represents Bentley, agrees with Worsham. 

"Dierks Bentley is the artist that bridges the roots of country music of the past with where it’s going," she said. "Past, present and future are all embodied in this album. This is a record that you feel.  Dierks’ heart and the incredible acoustic, bluegrass-tinged musicianship really shine on 'Gravel & Gold.'"  

"GRAVEL & GOLD" is one of Mabe's favorite Bentley albums to date because it's the singer singing songs about life through the wisdom he earned living it. 

"He can see the gold within the road he’s been on," she said. "I think this is a deep record that proves why Dierks has such staying power; reinvention by connecting back to his roots."

Bentley used bits and pieces from the two albums he didn't complete and says he could have been done in March of 2021, but it wouldn't have been his best work. Bentley brought in longtime collaborator Jon Randall to help him communicate what he wanted with the band.

"Nobody can speak music and put music into words like him," Bentley said of Randall. "He can talk to a band and say, 'Guys, what we're looking for here is like that crazy album Sam Bush was part of back in like 1972, where he did that weird thing in the mandolin.' Then people are just like, 'Oh, that's what you want me to play on the guitar? Got it.'"

In contrast, Bentley quipped that he would say: "Oh, that's cool. Can you play something a little cooler?"

The singer has a traditional country sensibility when listening to songs. He knows where he wants to hear the fiddle and steel guitar and explains it like a "roadmap." He said the instruments' conversation behind the scenes is just as important as the lyric the singer delivers. He needed Randall to help him navigate the "map" with the musicians.

"It's just a long process," he said. "I could've been like, 'This is good enough.' But it had to be right. It always has to be right. I have to look back and go, whether it did well or not with the radio, whether it did well or not with fans or critical praise be like, 'That's the best I could do at the time. Everything that needed from me, I gave to it.'"

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