“Riser,” the latest album from Dierks Bentley, is being lauded for its collection of mid-tempo tunes and ballads that find Bentley digging deeper than ever emotionally – a direction inspired largely by the death of his father two years ago and the recent birth of his son.
For an artist who has been known for such energetic songs as “What Was I Thinking,” “Sideways” and “5-1-5-0,” the more restrained and contemplative material on “Riser” is a bit of a stylistic changeup for Bentley.
At one point, the album leaned even further toward introspective balladry and mid-tempo material. That changed, Bentley said in a recent phone interview, when the song “Bourbon in Kentucky” was released as a lead single ahead of the planned release of the album.
The song – a slow-burning, broken-hearted duet with Kacey Musgraves – was not what radio wanted during the lighter, brighter days of summer 2013.
“Some radio programmers told me it literally stopped the station in its track,” Bentley said. “I had some guys that were real honest and just said ‘Man, it’s a tough song for us to play. It’s heavy.’ But it was real. …
“We put it out there and mainly saw that it was going to be a struggle and a fight. So yeah, we pulled it.”
In abandoning what was going to be the lead single, Bentley and his team decided to return to the studio and cut a few tracks that were more upbeat, both musically and lyrically – including “Back Porch,” “Sounds of Summer” and the recent chart-topping single from the album, “Drunk on a Plane.” Bentley thinks “Riser” became a better musical statement as a result.
“It was a good record and reflective of me and what I had kind of been through,” Bentley said of the original version of “Riser.” “But after ‘Bourbon’ died and all of this time had passed by, I wasn’t really in that moment. I wasn’t feeling that way anymore. … (His son, Knox, had just been born. He also has two daughters.) I felt good.
“So the record, instead of being so much about just a couple of certain moments in my life, really became a bigger picture of who I am over these last couple of years,” he said.
That said, “Riser” – while a quality effort – is not a safe album for Bentley. It still leans decidedly toward darkly hued ballads and mid-tempo songs rather than the kind of good-time rockers and romantic or nostalgic ballads that generally populate country radio playlists.
Of course, taking risks is nothing new for Bentley. He steadily gained popularity over the course of his first three albums, and when his fourth CD, 2009’s “Feel That Fire,” delivered two more chart-topping singles (“Sideways” and “Feel That Fire”), Bentley appeared ready to blast into the upper tier of country stars.
But instead of sticking to his winning mainstream country formula, Bentley took a stylistic detour and released a bluegrass album, 2010’s “Up on the Ridge.”
“People said I was crazy. It would ruin my career,” Bentley said. “Once you get settled in your career and you get going, it’s really easy to get complacent and not take chances. But taking chances is what got you to that place to begin with. … I really felt like I re-set my career clock when I made that record (“Ridge”) because from that record on, I feel like I’ve been making records differently, with a lot more attention to detail in the songs, looking for outside songs, trying to make really the most complete albums we can.”
As it turned out, “Up on the Ridge,” if not a blockbuster, was a decent success, and when Bentley returned to mainstream country with his 2013 album, “Home,” he hit new heights with three No. 1 singles, while the album itself debuted at No. 1 on “Billboard’s” country album chart.
Now with “Riser” having also debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s country album chart, produced chart-topping hits in “I Hold On” and “Drunk on a Plane,” as well as a top-five single in “Say You Do,” Bentley is promoting the album with his tour, which includes Toyota Amphitheatre. He figures to stick mainly to his hits.
“The band loves the new songs and loves ‘Riser.’ But right now, the set list is pretty rocking and perfect for amphitheaters,” he said. “I think about making a set (and I think back) to my first country shows. That’s what I loved about them, that energy, and I was out there on the grass and probably stealing somebody’s beer, just the energy and the fun and I definitely like to keep that up.”
What: Sounds of Summer Tour 2015
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Toyota Amphitheatre, 2677 Forty Mile Road, Wheatland
Information: 530-743-5900; 916-528-8497, wwww.livenation.com