Thursday, 27 February 2014

Album Review: RISER

I have to admit I didn't have high expectations when I started listening to the new Dierks Bentley album. Same-old, same-old, I thought. Wrong.

A couple songs into Riser, I realized there was something truly special about this album. In fact, it's becoming one of my favourites.

I Hold On was the first radio single, and a good one at that – peaking at number ten on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart (so far). Bentley sings about holding on to the good things in life – rusted trucks, old guitars, and most importantly, relationships. "I hold on to the things I believe in/My faith, your love, our freedom."

As a whole, the album doesn't feel like it was recorded to generate maximum airplay. Frankly, many of the songs are too long or slow. But you can't deny the quality of the work. Bentley takes his time to communicate the precise emotion he wants the listener to feel.

Bourbon In Kentucky is a heartbreaker opening track but has an uncharacteristic uplifting vibe. "There ain't enough bourbon in Kentucky for me to forget you." It sets the course for the rest of the songs on the album, which share the intricate yet overpoweringly-twangy instrumentation.

Pretty Girls is lyrically-shallow but catchy because of the unique minor chord pattern. "Chasing a buzz drinking cold Bud Light/Watching pretty girls drinking tall boys."

Here On Earth reminds me of what Luke Bryan tried to do with Drink a Beer. The singer has clearly been impacted by a personal loss and is looking for answers. "There's not a stone in my heart I've left unturned/Not a piece of my soul that I ain't searched." After wrestling with some tough questions, Bentley concludes he will simply never know the answers on this side of heaven.

Drunk On a Plane is one of the most original country songs I've heard in a while. The premise is wedding plans gone south and the man stuck with a honeymoon trip-for-two to Cancun. So, he tries to forget. "Buying drinks for everybody but the pilot/It's a party." It's brilliant songwriting too, but perhaps not the best messaging.

I usually get irritated with songs about the singer's career, but I had never heard one so good as Damn These Dreams. Even in the way Bentley sings, you can tell this is all-reality and no-show. He discusses being torn between music and his family and how touring keeps him constantly away from home. "Damn these dreams/Playing my heart just like a guitar string/Pull me away from you and everything I really need." Profound.

The only way I can really describe Riser is full and well-rounded. Bentley doesn't pull off anything crazy, but impressively, there are no weak tunes. Most artists cannot claim that about their albums; then again, Dierks Bentley is not most artists.

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