Dierks Bentley is a man out of time and proud of it on his new, 10th album, ‘Gravel and Gold’. He yearns to find ‘something real’ like a deep cut or an old pick up and he prefers the solitude of Colorado to the chaos of Nashville.
Many of Bentley’s best songs have been reflections on growth, on change and on what it means to be human. Songs like ‘I Hold On’, ‘Burning Man’ and ‘Living’ have always sat side by side with his lighter songs like ‘Drunk on a Plane’ and ‘Beers on Me’. On new album ‘Gravel & Gold’ Bentley really digs into his reflective side: showing us who he is and who he wants to be in full glory, on an album that is emotional, honest, raw and impactful.
It’s been 5 years since Bentley’s last album ‘The Mountain’. During that time there have been rumours of Bluegrass projects and scrapped albums so ‘Gravel & Gold’ hasn’t had the easiest origin story. Thankfully, the album is all the better for Bentley’s diligence and refusal to not accept anything but excellence.
A couple of ‘holding’ songs in ‘Gone’ and ‘Beers on Me’ have been released in the last two years but, interestingly, neither song made it onto ‘Gravel and Gold’, despite both of them hitting number 1 on the charts, which tells you how strong this album is.
Album opener ‘Same Ole Me’ addresses Bentley’s five year absence in a direct and reassuring way. Driven by ‘Classic Dierks’ style drums and guitars, the song is a perfect re-introduction to old and new fans alike. It also would make a great concert opener. ‘If all I am is all you need then all I ever want to be is the same ole me,’ Bentley sings.
Throughout ‘Gravel and Gold’ you’ll find an artist at peace with himself, searching for meaning in life. On ‘Still’, a quiet acoustic-ish song, Bentley sings about ‘roads less travelled’ and feeling at home on ‘some lonely hill.’ It’s a gentle yet impactful song that would be perfect around a campfire or at an intimate performance. ‘Walking Each Other Home’ excels and breathes with repeated plays and is an intelligent look at how we are all inter-connected to each other whilst ‘Roll On Buddy’ is full of lilting melodies and delightful guitars and mandolins as Bentley yearns to move, to change and to grow. After all, he sings, ‘life ain’t going to find us if we keep on standing still.’
This reflective, impactful side of Bentley’s music is probably best exemplified by ‘Old Pickup’ and ‘Something Real’. A retro-sounding song full of steel guitars with a fiddle-driven solo, ‘Old Pickup’ finds Bentley yearning to go back in time to simpler days whilst ‘Something Real’, perhaps the strongest and most uplifting song on ‘Gravel and Gold’, shares a genealogy with a track like ‘I Hold On.’ Drums, guitars and an anthemic production quality are a real feature here as Bentley sings about needing more from life, about deep cuts, long drives down back roads, mountains and a love that feels like home. If you are looking for ‘something that’ll burn’ that you can turn into something you can feel, ‘Something Real’, an obvious future radio number one, will be the highlight of this album for you.
Alongside ‘Something Real’ the other big, headline tracks include ‘Cowboy Boots’ and ‘All the Right Places’. The former, a duet with the very talented Ashley McBryde, is a tasteful, restrained song full of rich vocals and lush instrumentation. It’s an intelligent exploration of what it means to be a cowboy done via references to the boots. ‘All the Right Places’, meanwhile, is another radio hit in waiting. An uptempo song, it invokes the spirit of classic Dierks songs like ‘What Was I Thinkin’ and ‘5-1-5-0’. Throw in some gang vocals and bombastic drums and you’ve got the making of an all-time legacy song for this talented musician.
Alongside the reflective, impactful songs and the big hits, there are a number of meatier, funkier songs that prevent the album from being too introspective for mainstream tastes. ‘Heartbreak Drinking Tour is a lush, Eagles-esque track about a guy who goes out on the road to get over a girl. ‘Beer at My Funeral’ is a song that sits somewhere between ‘Drunk on a Plane’ and ‘Somewhere on a Beach’ in terms of of tone and style. Thumping drums and electric and steel guitars weave a tale that showcases Bentley’s wry humour to the max whilst ‘Gold’, a funky, lighter, Rock ‘n’ Roll driven handclap song, breaks out in full ‘singalong’ mode on a chorus made for an arena stage as Bentley sings about making the best out of life and finding the silver linings.
The album closes with a five and a half minute Bluegrass-leaning epic in ‘High Note’. Featuring the talents of the mercurial Billy Strings, ‘High Note’ follows similar album closers in terms of reflecting on endings and beginnings. On ‘Black”s ‘Can’t Be Replaced’ Bentley explored depth and meaning whilst on ‘How I’m Going Out’ from previous album, ‘The Mountain’ he teased and threatened listeners with his own retirement. ‘High Note’ looks at an ending, but from a more bombastic, belligerent way as Bentley sings about going out in ‘a blaze of glory’ whilst Billy Strings works his Bluegrass magic underneath.
‘Gravel and Gold’ is ‘peak ‘Dierks Bentley. It’s deep, meaningful, raw, honest and emotional. And it also rocks when it needs to. It’s the 10th album of Dierks Bentley’s career and it feels like the album he’s been building to since ‘Riser’. It has the commerciality of ‘Black’, the reflectiveness of ‘The Mountain’ and the impact of ‘Riser’. It’s a career-defining piece of work that invites the listener to grow, evolve and change alongside the artist himself. Dierks Bentley is on a journey of self-improvement and he wants you to travel those roads with him. You’d be a fool not to go along for the ride.
Tracklist: 1. Same Ole Me 2. Sunsets in Colorado 3. Heartbreak Drinking Tour 4. Something Real 5. Still 6. Beers at My Funeral 7. Cowboy Boots 8. Gold 9. Walking Each Other Home 10. Roll On Buddy 11. All the Right Places 12. Ain’t That Bad 13. Old Pick Up 14. High Note Record Label: Capitol Records Nashville Release Date: 24th February Buy ‘Gravel and Gold’ now