Oregon Jamboree headliner Dierks Bentley combines country with a bit of rock ’n’ roll
Country and rock ’n’ roll reached a détente long ago, absorbing and informing and commingling to the point that Dierks Bentley’s latest single, “5-1-5-0,” can contain two — count ’em, two — references to the devil’s music and no one bats an eye.
The title, of course, is borrowed from the Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen “5150” album, which introduced police code for “mentally disturbed person” into the popular vernacular. In the song proper, Bentley complains, “It’s like I’ve got a first-class seat up on Ozzy’s train,” a nod to Ozzy Osbourne’s solo hit “Crazy Train” (itself rendered harmless in the culture-at-large by adorable squirts in a Honda Pilot).
But Bentley, at 36, is part of a generation self-raised with admiration for many forms, likely exhausting cassette copies of “5150” and “Blizzard of Ozz” in his suburban adolescence. If 2008’s “With the Band” can be trusted as autobiography, we know that he witnessed at least one club shredder against his father’s wishes.
Bentley is crossover-steeped, wedding sentimental favorites to other disciplines; in 2010, he released a bluegrass interpretation of U2’s “Pride (in the Name of Love),” another chestnut from his radio youth. How tickled he must have been when his “Home” album debuted on the Billboard 200 in February — not only in the Top 10, but a mere five notches beneath the David Lee Roth-led Van Halen’s triumphant return.
With a pedigree like his, “Home” is loaded with airplay-tight power riffs and juiced guitars, albeit with a country tang, as personified on opening track “Am I the Only One” by a “country cutie with a rock ’n’ roll booty” (who says conflicting palates can’t sculpt a genetic masterpiece?). “Am I the only one who wants to have fun tonight?” Bentley demands to know over a rowdy last-call charge of anxious chunka-chunka and buzzsaw slide — the answer’s apparently yes, as his compadres appear to be chick-whipped, domesti-shackled or otherwise rehabilitated beyond the reach of fun — and beneath it all a chaw-jawed banjo patiently threads the foundation, winking occasionally through the mix.
A party fiddle accompanies “Gonna Die Young’s” ragged reverie, allowing Bentley to ache under his breath for yet another stunner (“Aw, c’mon,” he begs, “you’re killing me, girl”). Guitars skulk about a stalwart mandolin in “Tip It on Back,” filling a numb shot of forget-it-all in a neighborhood riddled with shuttered businesses, barren fields and ghost-shell domiciles. Bentley’s outlook is somewhat rosier on “Home” as he attempts to disprove Thomas Wolfe’s oft-quoted maxim by finding security from the wearying in the familiar and believing that the patient eventually heals itself (“It’s been a long hard ride, got a ways to go / But this is still the place that we all call home”).
Bentley’s home was Phoenix, Ariz., although he’s been a Nashville fixture since the age of 19. He knocked about the city a long while, haunting such landmarks as the Station Inn (where he discovered and fell in love with bluegrass, a genre to which he paid tribute on 2010’s “Up on the Ridge” and on “Home’s” “Heart of a Lonely Girl,” featuring Sam Bush and Tim O’Brien), Springwater and Market Street Brewery, where he was once joined onstage by Vince Gill. Meanwhile, he worked as a researcher for The Nashville Network.
In 2003, after an independent record (“Don’t Leave Me in Love”) and a clutch of demos, he released his self-titled major-label debut via Capitol Nashville and struck immediate gold when his first single, “What Was I Thinkin’,” went to No. 1 on the Billboard Country chart. He’s grabbed nine additional primos since, including all three “Home” singles so far.
It may not be a single (yet), but “Diamonds Make Babies” has such country-standard potential that Bentley’s not the only one who’s recorded it; Bradley Gaskin released his version of the Jim Beavers (brother Brett is Bentley’s coproducer)/Lee Thomas Miller/Chris Singleton composition this spring. Here the same breed of “Am I the Only One” galoot offers advice to a buddy bursting to pop the question. Once your lady dons the ring, he warns, it’s over, an unstoppable flood of family and responsibility. Before you know it, your favorite shirt’s a dishrag, your bowling trophies have been replaced by nursery ephemera and that beloved ride you’ve had since high school has morphed into an air-conditioned minivan breathing Josh Groban through factory speakers. Of course, we know that’s just a character, ’cause Dierks Bentley is a happily married father of two; in fact, his oldest daughter, Evie, slips cutely into the final moments of “Home” closer “Thinking of You.”
Not everything on the album hits paydirt — Bentley sounds silly using slang like “po-po” (not to mention the strangeness of a twang on a line like “The Woods’” “Come on, girl, leave your iPhone at home,” modern conveniences aside), and can cowboys call each other “bro” without getting kicked in the mouth? — but otherwise, this slick little baby makes diamonds of its own.
Dierks Bentley closes the Oregon Jamboree in Sweet Home at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5. Admission for the day is $95. For more information, visit www.oregonjamboree.com or http://dierks.com.