2016 CD REVIEW
HE'LL BE JAKE FOR DIERKS IN THE AFTER LIFE
“For 15 years, right by my side / from a single man to three kids and a wife/ friends come and go, but when it comes to Jake / there's just some things that can't be replaced.” - Can't Be Replaced - Hilary Lindsay-Luke Laird-Dierks Bentley.
The loss of loved ones have long been fertile fodder songwriters and poets dating back many centuries.
So it's no surprise Arizona born star Dierks Bentley pays homage to his recently deceased canine Jake who was his best mate for 15 years - long before his master became a star and toured Australia twice.
Bentley, 40, honours Jake in his song Can't Be Replaced from his 10th album Black and in an Instagram photo in a truck bed on July 10.
The singing pilot revealed that Jake, who appeared in his video for first single What Was I Thinkin and joined him at the Grand Ol Opry and Country Music Hall Of Fame, had chemotherapy in his protracted battle with cancer.
“Jake's been with me through every phase of my career, since before I had a publishing deal before I even had a gig, really,” Bentley revealed recently.
“When I got my first gigs downtown, he'd be waiting there in the windowsill; he actually wore out a little spot in the couch where he'd wait for me. I'd come home real late and he'd be there sitting in the window, putting in his time. Those were his years of grinding, sitting in the window waiting for me.”
No doubt Jake was pining for Dierks when he toured here with Australian Of The Year Lee Kernaghan in 2012 but he was not the first canine of that name to be honoured in song.
Pirates of The Mississippi recorded Feed Jake - written by Danny "Bear" Mayo - as the third single and Top 15 hit from its self-titled debut album in 1991.
Its theme is a plea by a man to his closest male friend to feed Jake - whom the duo adopted together - after either dies.
The narrator also addresses societal stereotypes toward homeless people and homosexuals, of whom the latter are addressed in the final verse.
So in the video Jake is filmed at the funeral at the cemetery with his surviving adopter.
But I digress - most of Bentley's song subjects here are the complexities of human love.
PILOT'S PICK-UP BACK ON TERRA FIRMA
“Won't you pick up the phone/ I can pick up some wine/ I can pick you up in my pick-up truck/ and we can pick up right where we left off/ ain't that what we both want/ pick up the pieces girl/ it ain't that broke/ pick up the past and just let it go put down that over me/ never wanna see me again/ goodbye kinda stuff and pick-up.” - Pick-Up - Jaren Johnston-Jimmy Robbins-Andrew Dorff. '
" Pick Up drops into the sequence as that point when you just have to be closer to your girl,” Bentley revealed.
“For the storyline and plot of these videos, director Wes Edwards definitely takes it there and puts a shocking spin on it. It never works out all nice and neat. It's a little more mysterious than that."
Bentley's four-part video series ends with Black - his album's title track.
Black is a concept album of sorts that tracks love roller coasters from the eyes of a relationship survivor.
Bentley was inspired to explore love's trysts and tributaries after watching American TV series The Affair about fallout from an extramarital dalliance.
" Black is the other side of the story, the things we don't talk about as much," explained Bentley, "like the two people who got ditched so two people could live happily ever after."
Bentley's wry sense of humour peaked when he chose the album title Black - maiden name of his wife of 10 years, Cassidy.
Although Black has personal connections to Bentley it's not autobiographical.
Dierks and Cassidy are happily married, with three children.
"She's like, 'where are the love songs for me?' But there aren't any love song, this isn't the 'happily ever after' album," Dierks confessed.
"I owe her a lot of credit for not only letting me be personal, but go beyond that and write [and record] stuff that is not personal but people might think is personal."
BENTLEY MOONING WITH MAREN MORRIS
"I don't wanna be a liar / I don't wanna be a fool / I don't wanna be a secret / but I will, if you want me to.” - I'll Be The Moon - Heather Morgan-Matt Dragstrem-Ryan Hurd.
"It's the hinge point of the whole album," Bentley explained.
"He's got the new girl, he's got it going on, he thinks he's found the thing he's looking for - but he hasn't, and you find that out later on. It's a critical song on the album."
"The concept for this record was following someone as they leave one thing behind for another. It seems people are searching for something and they find it in somebody, but then it goes away later on. Love is such a mysterious thing."
Dierks is joined on his cheating ballad I'll Be the Moon by young Texan troubadour Maren Morris, now 26.
Bentley, who also released acclaimed 2010 bluegrass album Up On The Ridge , is proud to push boundaries.
Here it includes showcasing Trombone Shorty on Mardi Gras.
"That's what we get to do as songwriters, right? You get to explore stuff. It makes people uncomfortable," says Bentley. "Certainly, my own wife will be uncomfortable. Her name is on it and people are going to go, 'ah, the Bentleys are having a hard time. I'll Be the Moon. What's going on there?'"
Although originally conceived from the male standpoint Bentley revamped it as a duet with Morris.
"I've always listened to that song as a one-sided view of someone that you can't really have,” says Morris who first heard the song as a demo by co-writer Ryan Hurd.
“I thought it was brilliant to show the girl's perspective. It was one of my favourite songs just because it's so heartbreaking and it's so beautiful."
Morris says Bentley texted her to sing on Moon and, by the next day, they were in the studio.
"Usually things take time, but this was just so instinctual," she says.
Bentley's female quota is enriched with songs by prolific writers - Nashville veterans Natalie Hemby, Jessi Alexander and Hillary Lindsey.
Bentley calls Morris the "instigator" of the album's conflict.
"You start hearing some of these other female voices on the record and the album takes on a bigger idea of just a young man's journey from being free to being in a relationship," Bentley explained.
ELLE KING – DIFFERENT FOR GIRLS
“It's different for girls when their hearts get broke/ they can't tape it back together with a whiskey and Coke/ they don't take someone home and act like it's nothing/ they can't just switch it off every time they feel something/ a guy gets drunk with his friends and he might hook up/ fast forward through the pain, pushing back when the tears come on/ but it's different for girls.” - Different For Girls - Shane McAnally-J.T. Harding
I'll Be the Moon is one of two high-profile duets on Black.
New single Different for Girls features Ex's & Oh's singer Elle King and was showcased on the CMT Awards before the video launch on another TV show.
"The guy in Beach ends up being the guy who sings Different for Girls ," says Bentley of the song penned by Shane McAnally and J T. Harding.
"Maybe he is seeing the world differently. I like how the song creates some dialogue about the different ways guys and girls deal with heartbreak. The video shows both sides of the stereotype and in the end, the girl is the one who works through it and is able to move on. Wes and I have made a lot of videos together, and he always nails it."
“There is a real honesty in these lyrics, and I haven't heard a song written this way before. The differences in how guys and girls deal with a broken heart is really interesting material to me.
“Having two daughters certainly has changed the way I see the world and what they have ahead. What I love about Elle being on this record, besides her uniquely powerful but vulnerable voice, is that she's a total badass. Having her perspective really helps tell the complete story.”
King gave her take on the song's message.
It's funny because this song is very, very true for most women, but I actually do all those bad things,” King explained.
“But in a lot of other ways, it's different for all girls.”
“When I got the call that Dierks wanted me to sing with him I was very honoured. But I get a little shy when I'm asked to sing other people's songs - let alone a duet with one of the biggest country stars in the world.
“Our voices blended really well together. Since I often write from the male perspective, I was really excited to be a part of someone else's story that is jumping outside of the norm for a relationship song. The lyrics are really smart and I love that he is bringing a lot of attitude to modern country music.”
King plays banjo on the song but claims Bentley is also proficient on the instrument - a claim he refutes.
“When I moved to Nashville, I tried so many times to learn to play the banjo,” he said.
“Three times in my life I bought Earl Scruggs albums, but I'm just no good.
“My whole band was so obsessed with it that we have laminates from a whole year of touring that say The Year of the Banjo . All of us spent time trying to learn the banjo, but I eventually gave up. So having Elle play, this was meant to be.”
THE POSSUM ON THE WIRELESS
“Something about George Jones on the headphones/ truth through a microphone/ living on and on in a melody/ something about starlight in Kansas/ the way a wheat field dances/ fence posts as far as the eye can see.” - All The Way To Me - Luke Dick-Scooter Carusoe-Dierks Bentley.
“It was like a train going full speed, touring 300 dates a year. I met my wife and I was like, 'OK, jump on the train.' But it doesn't work that way. You have to get on a different train.
"On some of my records in there, I was struggling to figure out who I was. The Feel That Fire record, I think, was where I reached the end of the road, where I needed to reboot. That's where the bluegrass record came into play."
"I had some long-time fans say, 'I've always wanted Dierks to be successful, but I hate this song that's doing it for him.'"
The bluegrass disc that included covers of Dylan and Kristofferson songs was a poignant punctuation for the singer who also exercised his art with live solo gigs at the famed Station Inn venue in Nashville where The Time Jumpers also gave Vince Gill a pit stop from the mainstream.
Bentley and Copperman recorded Black as if they were making a vinyl album.
Dierks considers anthemic declaration Freedom as the end of Side A and the introspective and stripped-down Why Do I Feel as the first song on the flip side.
Bentley co-wrote both and considers them polar opposites.
He says Why Do I Feel helps foster the narrator's evolution.
"My goal was to make a physical vinyl album,” Bentley revealed.
“I visualised it in my head and the back half is more the maturity and the growth."