Dierks Bentley has a nice, deep voice; an open, friendly demeanor; and a knack for working in a variety of country-music genres, from bluegrass to power ballads. For all that, it's always been difficult to pin down what Bentley aims to do. Although he's only in his 30s, Bentley sounds as though he's working through a bit of a midlife crisis on his new album Home. Take, for example, the single "Am I the Only One," a novelty tune about going out to party with a twist — not many of Bentley's pals want to join him, because they've settled into adulthood, and he hasn't.
With its talk of wanting to "throw down" with his "bros," Bentley sounds a little desperate in "Am I the Only One," and I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that that's how he wanted to come across. It may be that where Bentley's most ardent feelings reside are in his ballads, which tend to soar with big choruses bursting with romantic sentiments. One of the best ones on the album is called "In My Head."
When Bentley really slows things down, he can grind to a near-halt. I'd say he carries his earnest melancholy a bit too far in the seven-minutes-plus dirge "Thinking of You." It's that long to accommodate a coda which features his 3-year-old daughter singing some of the lyrics to her daddy. Country music and hip-hop are among the last refuges for such shamelessness.
As the titles of "In My Head" and "Thinking of You" suggest, Bentley spends a lot of time pondering the vagaries of love — he wants you to know he's a thoughtful fellow in every sense. He may be at his best, though, in more up-tempo songs with novelty-tune twists — such as the charming, if slightly condescending, "Diamonds Make Babies."
I like the way Dierks Bentley is trying to work through a new passage in his career over the course of Home. He sounds restless, sometimes impatient, sometimes stubborn, as though he can will his audience to expand and grow along with him. Like much of that audience, he's reached a point where he's not playing around anymore, where there's a lot at stake with each career move he makes. The question is whether the way he frames that struggle can be as much of a musical soundtrack to your life as it is for his.