Dierks Bentley was the singer’s major label debut, which appeared in 2003, two years following the independently released Don’t Leave Me In Love. The major label phase of Bentley’s career received a jump-start with his first single, the infectious ‘What Was I Thinkin’, which quickly shot to #1 and became Bentley’s first gold single. Irresistibly catchy, it was one of the very few — perhaps the only — #1 hit that year to feature the dobro as a prominent instrument. Capitol hoped to duplicate this success with the follow-up single, the slightly syrupy and sentimental ‘My Last Name’, a tune about family pride and honor, which stalled at #17. Bentley recovered with the album’s final single, the upbeat “How Am I Doin’”, which climbed to #4. Like its two predecessors, ‘How Am I Doin’ was co-written by Bentley, as were eight more of the album’s thirteen tracks.
All three of the album’s singles were enjoyable, but the album cuts are where the truly interesting material can be found. Bentley and producer Brett Beavers seem to have deliberately followed a strategy of building the album around some hit singles, and using the rest of the album as an opportunity to branch out a little more with some more traditional material that was considered less radio-friendly. Overall, the approach works well and the end result is an album that has more depth and breadth than most debut efforts.
Among the more traditional cuts on the album is ‘Bartenders, Etc.’, which Bentley wrote, and had previously recorded for his independent album. Not a drinking song per se, it pays homage to the barroom. This type of song has long been a staple of country music. As an uptempo number, it initially seems like a good choice for a single, but the barroom theme may have been a little to politically incorrect for country radio in 2003. “Distant Shore” was also strong enough to warrant release as a single, but Capitol may have been reluctant to send another ballad to radio after ‘My Last Name’ failed to reach the Top 10.
‘My Love Will Follow You’ was written by Buddy and Julie Miller. One of only two songs on the album not written or co-written by Dierks, it had previously appeared on Buddy’s 1995 album Your Love and Other Lies. The other tune in which Dierks did not have a hand in writing is ‘I Bought The Shoes’, a honky-tonker which is my favorite song on the album:
I bought her fancy clothes, for all occasions
And that new car so she could go just any ole where she pleased
I bought the golden band she wore, on the hand that closed the door
And I bought the shoes that just walked out on me
In what would become a tradition for Dierks’ albums, the set closes with a bluegrass number, ‘Train Travelin’, on which Dierks is joined by the Del McCoury Band. It stands out in stark contrast in an era in which country stars often claimed to have a deep appreciation of country music’s traditions but rarely demonstrated that appreciation in their own music. Dierks was the sole writer of ‘Train Travelin’, which adds to its authenticity; this song wasn’t the product of a “songwriter’s committee” where the artist got a songwriting credit merely for being present in the room while professional writers did all the heavy lifting. It also serves to underscore that there is a lot more to Dierks Bentley than what we hear from him on the radio. I’ve been underwhelmed by some of his single releases over the years, but hearing his debut effort has made me realize that listening to some of his later albums in their entirety may be a worthwhile exercise.
Dierks Bentley is widely available from major retailers, including Amazon and iTunes.