Dierks Bentley,
Modern Day Drifter
(Capitol, 2005)

My immediate impression of Modern Day Drifter is of a throwback to the cliche-ridden country music of the 1980s, right down to the checked shirt, denim jeans and electric guitar that Dierks Bentley sports on the album cover. All that's missing is a ridiculously oversized Stetson. The production repeatedly lacks focus. It doesn't know whether it's trying to be pop, rock or country, and what you end up with is often the worst elements of all three, fighting for prominence throughout the mix.

There is no denying that Bentley has a superb voice -- a lonesome baritone, smooth as bourbon whiskey -- but Modern Day Drifter just doesn't provide the material or arrangements to showcase this obviously gifted singer. The country cliche is mined further if you take a look at some of the lyrics; "Hey bartender, can I make one special request, my woman left me..." being one of many jaded examples.

Whilst reading over the sleeve notes I was somewhat surprised to notice that Alison Krauss provides harmony vocals on one of the tracks, "Good Things Happen." Not really the sort of recording I expected to hear her contributing to. However, this particular track provided an uncharacteristically serene moment on the album, being a relatively stripped-down arrangement and benefiting immensely from Krauss's sublime harmonies.

The title track of Modern Day Drifter and the closing track, "Gonna Get There Some Day," are also worthy of singling out, which can again be attributed to a less cluttered arrangement, albeit a little too slick for my liking. Other big-name guests, the Del McCoury Band help to ramp up the quality on the McCoury-penned track "Good Man Like Me." As you might expect with the involvement of the Del McCoury Band, the result is a much more organic sounding arrangement.

Bentley would do well to pursue further collaborations with the likes of McCoury or consider the type of alt-country arrangements that Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy have pioneered as the "Twangtrust." Otherwise, a world of mediocrity awaits.

by Mike Wilson
23 September 2006

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