Although Dierks Bentley can party as hearty as that frat boy Luke Bryan, he consistently does a much better job at getting the mixture of good times and melancholy right. With Riser, he shows us how to live it up (even up in the friendly skies with “Drunk on a Plane”), but he also balances out these boozy celebration with an equally unhealthy share of headache inducing depression.
While Miranda Lambert cried like a baby over the death of loved one with “Over You,” Bentley faces a crisis of faith after losing someone close. He confesses to being a back row church-goer, at best, only to conclude that “there’s no answers here on earth” when facing up to the ‘why’ question concerning untimely deaths through “Here on Earth.”
Riser may pass the emotional balancing test, but it’s nevertheless a few rungs short of content perfection. There are a couple of obvious throwaways, such as “Five,” which just drags on and on without really saying a whole lot. The lecherous “Pretty Girls,” that is all about drinking and girl watching is also given a sonic demerit for its Coldplay-inspired chorus. Must that evil Coldplay infect everything? Even country music? “Back Porch” an upbeat song about making music and partying with friends at home. And while it’s basic, hometown fun, the overall outcome is ultimately insubstantial.
Granted, the aforementioned “Drunk on a Plane” ain’t exactly Hemmingway with twang either, but the way the music woozily mimics the feeling of drunkenness while Bentley flips his ex the bird in the throes of airborne inebriation rings achingly true, like a four a.m. wakeup call after an all night block party. By now, you’ve already heard “Bourbon in Kentucky,” another drinking-to-get-over-her song that comes to the disappointing realization that no amount of alcohol can drown out the worst cases of heartache.
As another example, “I Hold On” may not reach for any grand statements. However, Bentley sings of how he’s the kind of guy that always sticks with the tried and true, such as old trucks and beat up guitars. In its subtle way, this is a song about commitment. You don’t need to be a poet throwing out flowery words to be effective sometimes. You just have to use the right words, at the right time, the way Bentley does on this unassumingly stellar song.
Speaking of simplicity, it’s so endearing to hear Bentley perform a sparse song like “Damn These Dreams.” On it, Bentley sings about the first time he heard Hank Williams, Sr. sing, which made him want to do the very same thing. When he was young, being a song man was an infinite dream without strings. But being hooked on the music bug is not quite so easy, he later admits, when you get a little older and the road takes you away from your young children at home. Damn those dreams, indeed.
“Hurt somebody” is another quiet one. Although he didn’t write this particular song, it nevertheless fits Bentley’s repertoire perfectly. It’s all about a girl that, though unbelievably attractive, is nevertheless a certified heartbreaker. Bentley knows her nature all too well. But when he sings “You’re gonna hurt somebody,” he follows up this prophesy with, “God I hope it’s me.” The chance to make this one-on-one connection is seemingly worth all the emotional aftershocks sure to follow.
Bentley continues to be one of country music’s most reliable album artists. He’s got country in his bones, yet doesn’t need to brag about it all the time in his lyrics. The quality of his songs speak for themselves. And when he’s at his best during Riser, Bentley’s never been better.