Today, Dierks Bentley releases his sixth studio album, Home, which has already spawned a No. 1 hit, the rowdy drinking song “Am I the Only One,” and an ACM Song of the Year nomination for its title track, a healing anthem Bentley cowrote days after Gabrielle Giffords was shot in his home state, Arizona.
That’s representative of the range you’ll find on the record. “It’s kinda weird,” he tells EW, “but we had the album cover blown up and put on the wall and we would look at that like, Do these songs fit that guy? Because when we’re in the studio, you’re doing different things, your head’s down. You’re like, ‘This song sounds cool,’ and then a year later, you’re like, ‘That song sucks,’” he laughs.
“There’s definitely a small town country vibe to it. There’s a little bit of fun. Sometimes the most important thing about country music is not taking yourself too seriously. You can have moments when you put out a heavy song, but it’s good to have songs that remind you you’re an artist but you’re also an entertainer.”
He continues: “There was a time when I had a lot of leavin’ left to do. Now, I do have kids. I feel like it’s okay to make a record and be honest about that. That’s a big deal in my life right now.”
His 3-year-old daughter Evie even makes a cameo: Let the paternal love letter “Thinking of You” run after his voice fades, and you’ll eventually hear her singing the chorus. While Bentley was on the road, his wife and album producer got together and videotaped her singing the song back to him, then emailed it to him on his birthday.
“When I got back to Nashville, [the producer] played me the track and it was in there. I was like Wow, I never thought I’d be the guy that has his daughter on a record, but I can’t take it off. It’s a really special moment for me, so I kept it on there…. I didn’t realize it’d get the attention it’s gotten, so maybe I should have made it a full-on duet,” he jokes.
We caught up with Bentley backstage at his iHeartRadio Live show Monday in New York City, and asked him what other country songs fans purchasing his album today should also make sure are in their collection. Hint: A lot of Keith Whitley.
• If you want a song to chill out and drink to (like Home track “Tip It On Back”): “When I’m just chilling out and drinking on the bus, we listen to a lot of Keith Whitley, especially his album Sad Songs & Waltzes,” Bentley says. “J.D. Crowe went back and took vocals that he’d cut before Keith even had a country record deal, between his bluegrass and country stuff, and re-tracked them about 12 years ago using new musicians. So that record is one of my favorites…. That’s depressed drinking. Sometimes it’s not let’s just get f—ed up and party, it’s like let’s see how sad we can make ourselves. Put on some Vern Gosdin, break out a bottle of red wine, ready, set, go. Who’s gonna get the razor blade out first? That’s a sadistic thing we do on the bus.”
• If you want a raucous drinking song (like “Am I the Only One”): “Eric Church’s ‘Drink In My Hand’ is probably my favorite catchy, well-written drinking song on the radio. I have a video of Evie singing ‘Drink In My Hand.’ It’s gonna be her follow-up. I told Church, ‘My daughter loves ‘Drink In My Hand.’ I’ve had people say that to me before [about my songs], but I didn’t really get it because I didn’t have kids. But now I’m the guy saying that to Eric.”
• If you want a hormone-driven song (like “Gonna Die Young,” in which lust threatens to kill him): “I think ‘Red Solo Cup’ really gets the women going crazy. I think when they hear that they just go, ‘Oh my god, that is the country Barry White right there,” he jokes of the Toby Keith hit. Then, he starts singing the chorus of Luke Bryan’s “I Don’t Want This Night to End.”
• If you want a love song (like “Breathe You In”): “My wife and I eloped, but we set all our pictures to ‘When You Say Nothing At All.’ That’s our song. Keith Whitley or Alison Krauss, both versions are killer.”
• If you want a clever song (like “Diamonds Make Babies” and “5-1-5-0,” which is California state code for an involuntary psychiatric hold): “It’s so polarizing, but it does make me laugh to hear ‘Red Solo Cup.’ The guys that wrote it are some of my best friends, and the fact that they snuck that thing through country radio — it has no drums, no bass — I can’t believe that gets played,” he says. He also mentions Zac Brown Band’s “Keep Me in Mind.” “It has that smooth ’80s breakdown in the middle. It’s kinda like a porn thing. [Hums] You know what I mean? That’s what I thought,” he laughs.
• If you want a breakup song (like “In My Head”): “I think Kenny Chesney did a great job with ‘You and Tequila.’ You know you shouldn’t be with somebody or drink it, but you can’t help but go back to it because it drives you crazy. I think that’s a great song. ‘I’m Over You’ by Keith Whitley is probably my favorite all-time sad breakup song,” he says.
• If you want a man-on-the-road song (like “Heart of a Lonely Girl”): “‘White Line Fever’ by Merle Haggard,” he says without hesitation.
• If you want a love-amongst-the-trees song (like “The Woods”): “Tim O’Brien has this song ‘Deep in the Woods’ from his album Rock In My Shoe. It’s a little left of center, but I love Tim and this song,” he says, adding that he thought about cutting it. (O’Brien, who was a big part of Bentley’s 2010 bluegrass-infused album Up on the Ridge, reunites with him for “Heart of a Lonely Girl.”)
• If you want a sentimental song for parents (like “Thinking of You”): “When I didn’t have kids, I’d listen to Darius Rucker’s ‘It Won’t Be Like This For Long,’ like whatever, it’s a great song. But then you have kids, and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, that’s like the greatest song of all time.’” Then, he starts singing the chorus of Conway Twitty’s “That’s My Job.”
• If you want a great duet (like “When You Gonna Come Around,” featuring Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild): “I mean, a four-minute double suicide thing like Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss’ ‘Whiskey Lullaby,’ that’s a good one for the back of the bus late at night, beer or wine, lights down a little low, get romantic and listen to a really sad, sad song,” he says. “That’s probably one of the greatest country duets.”