TERRY GROSS, HOST:
Dierks Bentley has been releasing albums for a decade and has achieved substantial success, including awards from the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of Bentley's latest album, called "Home."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
DIERKS BENTLEY: (Singing) West. On a plane bound west I see her stretching out below. Land, blessed mother land, a place where I was born. Scars...
KEN TUCKER: Dierks Bentley has a nice, deep voice; an open, friendly demeanor; and a knack for working in a variety of country music subgenres, from bluegrass to power ballads. For all that, it's always been difficult to pin down what Dierks 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.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AM I THE ONLY ONE")
BENTLEY: (Singing) Well, it was Friday in the PM and just like every weekend, I was ready to throw down. Yeah, I get a little tore up, so I called my bros up to meet me out on the town. Well, Wild Man Willy said I'd like to, really, but "Idol" is on TV. And Ray had a date with his wife and Nate quit drinking but he didn't tell me. Am I the only one who wants to have fun tonight?
(Singing) Is there anybody out there who wants to have a cold beer, kick it till the morning light? If I have to raise hell all by myself, I will, but y'all that ain't right. Yeah, it's time to get it on. Am I the only one who wants to have fun tonight? Well, I was...
TUCKER: With its talk of wanting to throw down with his bros, Bentley sounds a little desperate on "Am I the Only One." 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. Here's one of the best ones on the album, called "In My Head."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN MY HEAD")
BENTLEY: (Singing) You completely disappeared. You could be a million miles from here. You're doing fine from what I hear lately. I guess you found your destiny. If this is really how it's meant to be, then moving on sounds good to me, baby, but you're still in my arms, in my head.
(Singing) You're still in my car, in my head. You're still in that t-shirt on my bed. You're every song that's on. You're gone but you never left in my head. Yeah, you're still in my head.
TUCKER: When Bentley really slows things down, he can sometimes grind to a near-halt. I'd say he carries his earnest melancholy a bit too far on the seven-minutes-plus dirge "Thinking of You." It's that long to accommodate a coda that features his three-year-old daughter singing some of the lyrics to her daddy.
Country music and hip-hop are among the last refuges for such shamelessness, so I'll spare you the trilling of the daughter so that you can decide the merits of "Thinking of You" uninfluenced by the cute kid manipulation.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THINKING OF YOU")
BENTLEY: (Singing) When I'm all alone or in a crowd, in a quiet place or where music's loud, if I'm on the road, or in the other room, that's how you know I'm thinking of you. When the flowers bloom...
TUCKER: 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 tunes with novelty-tune twists, such as the charming, if slightly condescending, "Diamonds Make Babies."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIAMONDS MAKE BABIES")
BENTLEY: (Singing) Hey, man, that sure is one big old rock. It takes up half of that velvet box. I know you've given this a lot of thought. You're going to get a yes for sure. That thing is more than just a simple stone. It's got some crazy powers all its own. Something will happen when she slips it on they never tell you at the jewelry store.
(Singing) Yeah, diamonds make babies. And babies make mamas...
TUCKER: I like the way Dierks Bentley is trying to work through a new passage in his career over the course of this album "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.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed "Home," the new album by Dierks Bentley. We learned over the weekend that fiddler Joe Thompson died at the age of 93. He helped keep alive the black string band tradition. He inspired the young members of the string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Here's Thompson singing and playing with the Drops. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DONA GOT A RAMBLIN' MIND")
JOE THOMPSON: (Singing) Dona got a ramblin' mind, Dona got a ramblin' mind. Dona got a ramblin' mind, Dona got a ramblin' mind. Dona gonna jump the fence, go on down the line. Dona got a ramblin' mind. Dona got a ramblin' mind...