On the album art of Black, his eighth album, Dierks Bentley appears in a seemingly foreign atmosphere for the country singer: the stylish, sexy streets of a city at night. This change in setting -- previously, Bentley has been seeing picking on a porch, grinning in an alley, staring into the sunset, and chilling with a dog -- doesn't necessarily suggest a leap into crossover country-pop, but there's little question that the sultry gloss of Black is a consolidation of 2014's Riser, a record slicker and straighter than its predecessors. Call it maturation as much as a shift in aesthetics.
Like a two-sided Lost Weekend, emotional – and literal – darkness is at the troubled heart of the first half of Black, Dierks Bentley's adventurous 21st century take on cheating songs and the reclamation of love, which marks the most fully satisfying of the country superstar's LP's since 2010's brilliant bluegrass disc, Up on the Ridge. Long a linchpin in country music, tales of infidelity offered from the perspective of those doing the deed may be commonplace but have rarely taken on the weightiness that Bentley's dusty vocals convey throughout the journey from thrilling, clandestine sexual encounter to repentant resolution. Bentley is convincing as a hedonistic jerk in search of pleasure, and as a hedonistic jerk who's man enough to eventually acknowledge the consequences of his actions; his self-exploration is especially discomfiting when he tries to put the seductive genie back in the bottle.
There’s a fog hanging over Dierks Bentley’s ninth album Black. A strategic fog, perhaps. The black-and-white album cover photo is set up so he looks caught off guard, like he’s been caught doing something he shouldn’t. The songs project a feeling of anxiety, of life being unsettled. There.
The first half of 2016 has seen a number of major country releases — some stellar (Loretta Lynn, Brandy Clark), some not-so-stellar (Keith Urban, Blake Shelton) — but it’s emerging and under-the-radar artists who have made the biggest impact on the genre lately. Whether it’s through sonic ….
Dierks Bentley often gets lumped in with the bro-country bros, but songs about girls, beer, and/or trucks have always been only part of his story. On his new record, they’re none of the story. Aided by a bevy of female singers including Maren Morris and Elle King, Bentley spends much of “Black” on love’s dark and troubled side: attempting to resurrect a dead relationship in the wordplay-clever “Pick Up,” despairing of infidelity’s no-win result in “I’ll Be the Moon.