"What Was I Thinkin'," the opening track on Dierks Bentley's self-titled debut, is an engaging up-tempo romp about young love and youthful hijinks that made its way into the Top 5 - and even so, it's the weakest song on the album. An Arizona native who made his way to Nashville, hung out with bluegrassers and paid his dues with long sets in some of the city's finest dives, Bentley learned his lessons well, and the result is an impressive set indeed.
From "Wish It Would Break" (his heart, of course) to a ripping cover of Buddy and Julie Miller's "My Love Will Follow You," Bentley mines the durable themes and sounds of hard country music. Though it's not without its modern touches, the album rests firmly on a traditional, occasionally bluegrass-leaning base, symbolized by contributions from Terry Eldredge and Shad Cobb (both formerly with the Osborne Brothers) - and the closing, full-on bluegrass of "Train Travelin'," which finds the youngster's hard-edged baritone backed by the Del McCoury Band.
There's hardly an ounce of pop in Bentley's country, but neither are there ritual invocations of Hank Williams and obsessively retro settings and sentiments. Instead, Bentley has produced an album that is an important contribution to the re-emerging neo-traditionalist sound. The year's not yet over, but it's a safe bet that this CD will stand as one of its best.