"Hot Country Knights" is Dierks Bentley as you've never experienced him before. At least when it comes to the lyrics. Hot Country Knights - the alter ego of Bentley (aka Douglas "Doug" Douglason - he's one in the middle of the hair raising cover) and his regular band - is a country hair act that supposedly pays homage to country from the '90s.
But that would be selling this 10-song collection of some of the best straight-ahead country music you might hear this year very short.
Much credit goes to Bentley, who produced and helped write five of the songs,, and the rest of the writers for coming up with a bunch of kick-ass songs musically. There's the mid-tempo serious ballad of "Mull It Over," which even has pedal steel (now what mainstreamers include that country relic these days?). And how about the revved up "Moose Knuckle Shuffle" with a cutesy story line to boot about a trucker coming into town and joining townspeople doing the dance and even finding his wife.
There's more to Hot Country Knights than a wink and a smile though. Give the Knights a lot of credit for taking dead aim at bro country, line dancing and the posturing from the pick-up truck crowd so glorified in country songs in recent years. The title track (does anyone think it echoes Toni Basil's "Mickey"?) makes that abundantly clear in a snappy, head bob inducing tune. So do "Wrangler Danger," "Asphalt," where the protagonist leaves the woman behind to hit the pavement, and "The Kings of Neon" about a group that thinks it owns the local dive.
Travis Tritt and Terri Clark show up for vocal stints on "Pick Her Up" and the too obvious sexual innuendo of "You Make It Hard." Both are in great vocal form with Clark and Bentley offering a lovely vocal duet on the latter.
There's a Garth Brooks influence on "Then It Rained," which steals from "The Thunder Rolls" musically. The plaintive, ultra serious vocals from Trevor Travis make up for the silliness of the lyrics - just when you think something big is about to happen, ho hum, "then it rained."
Hot Country Knights gets its most inane on the closing "The USA Begins With US" with some silly Spinal Tap faux live banter from Bentley, who forgets what city he's in. But one could also interpret the song as (not so) slyly poking fun at the jingoists out there in country music and the U.S. and xenophobes looking for easy solutions that may not come from politicians (to wit, voiceovers from Presidents Nixon, (W) Bush and Clinton about crooks, a malapropism and sex respectively).
Hot Country Knights will not be everybody's idea of country music entertainment. A few songs are a bit too obvious or too easy in poking fun, but Bentley and band make some great country music in spite of their puerile selves.