(Capitol Records Nashville)
3.5 out of 5 stars
For much of his career, Dierks Bentley has operated as something of a throwback, a country crooner with more traditionalist tendencies who somehow manages to rub shoulders on radio with the genre’s more modern incarnations. On Riser, Bentley trades some of that distinction for his own foray into a more modern rock-imbued arena-country, and while it takes away part of what makes the singer stand out, it also also underscores that he can do anything they can do and do it better.
For a sizable chunk of Riser, there’s more delay on the guitars than twang, even as Bentley sings about his beat-up truck and an ancient acoustic on “I Hold On.” The result on that track is a sterling anthem that serves as the album’s centerpiece, and it’s given even more weight with the circumstances surrounding the record’s release. Riser grew out of the grief from Bentley’s father passing away and was finished as he welcomed the arrival of a son. When he sings, “What they don’t know is my dad and me / We drove her out to Tennessee / And she’s still here and now he’s gone / So I hold on,” he takes a well-worn genre convention about a good old boy and his truck and infuses it with real emotional resonance. He isn’t just flashing his Heritage Card.
There are moments of levity on Riser, like the fratboy-ish “Pretty Girls” and “Drunk on a Plane,” but those songs betray what works so well everywhere else on the record. Those are goofy songs that, below the surface, are about trying not to feel the pain. With the fantastic album-closer “Hurt Somebody,” Bentley suggests that that’s no way to live. The rest of Riser meets the pain head-on and wrestles it to the ground.