Published Feb 25, 2014Sometimes tapping your strongest track as an album opener is a dangerous move. Country superstar Dierks Bentley's Riser starts with such promise, nailing listeners with "Bourbon in Kentucky" (a rocking, genre-defying tune featuring Kacey Musgraves on backing vocals); but it nails us so well that everything thereafter operates as an extended denouement.
This sense of diminishing returns is only amplified by the uncomfortable fact that the songs batting second and third are both undercooked retreads of better songs by other artists. The catchy soon-to-be-hit "Say You Do" (written by the usually reliable Shane McAnally and others) rides on a chorus that apes the unmistakable structure of Ryan Adams' "Come Pick Me Up," while the good-guy anthem "I Hold On" (a hit last summer) is simply a rewrite of Guy Clark's "Stuff That Works."
(What's most astounding about this is that Bentley has had this problem before. Just two years ago alt-country singer-songwriter Jason Isbell took to Twitter to vent his frustration over "douchebag" Bentley having ripped off his song "In A Razor Town" for the hit "Home." And yet, here we are.)
But, anyway, after this strong (if flawed) one-two-three punch, the record throws in the towel with the idiotic "Pretty Girls." Yet another tune about men in sunglasses drinking beers and ogling women in string bikinis ("You can't beat this view!"), this one is about as unattractive as it is uninspired.
Still, there are several moments of earnest self-reflection on this, his most personal record to date. Bentley recently lost his father and celebrated the birth of his third child and first son, and these events are referenced on the introspective title track and the heartfelt "Here On Earth." And the odd Rich Rock Star Blues of "Damn These Dreams" is poignant even if it is all a bit self-important.
Too bad these moments of poignancy are intercut with songs like "Drunk on a Plane," "Back Porch" and "Sounds of Summer," which have the emotional weight of, say, a Jackass movie. It's frustrating because Bentley has a terrific voice, a strong sense of melody and songcraft and a killer lead guitarist in Ryan Tindell (who also works with Eric Church). There's no doubt that there is a great album somewhere in this talented artist, but Riser just isn't it. (Capitol Nashville)