Hot Hot Heat: Dierks Bentley
A few weeks before Christmas, he went to Oslo to salute Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland, with an international cadre of stars—including Diana Ross, Il Divo and Jason Mraz. Bentley’s three-song set included a duet with Norwegian singer Marit Larsen on “Beautiful World.”
“I chalked it up as research, but I hit about seven different pubs, because I wanted to make sure I said her name right on global TV,” Bentley says. “You gotta roll the ‘r,’ slur the ‘s.’”
He got through the performance with aplomb, in a three-piece suit he bought an hour before the show when he realized the pomp and circumstance of the event. It was a wardrobe switch that prompted Capitol Records Nashville president/CEO Mike Dungan, who was watching it on CNN.com, to text Bentley: “How do they say ‘plaid shirt’ in Norwegian?”
“I think he wanted me to wear my standard plaid shirt, but I cleaned up a little bit before the show,” Bentley says, laughing.
The pairing with Larsen may turn into something more—there’s now talk of Bentley recording the song with various artists around the world. Bentley’s international travel schedule is typical of how he tweaks the standard practices of country promotion. Although he’s one of the youngest members of the Grand Ole Opry, for his Feb. 3 release, “Feel That Fire,” Bentley is breaking new ground by touring overseas, aggressively pursuing retail promotion and embracing digital strategies.
It’s certainly the right time for Bentley to focus on boosting sales. His 2006 album, “Long Trip Alone,” sold 672,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, less than half of his 2005 set, “Modern Day Drifter.” “I just try to make sure I’m never stuck in a rut,” Bentley says. “I want something that needs to be on someone’s mantle. I have a bunch of U2 CDs, and each one has its own little place; it’s not just pump out another record and say, ‘All right, let’s get back to the bus.’ ”
Bentley took off large blocks of time to write and record “Fire.” Capitol Nashville VP of marketing Cindy Mabe visited his house in the months leading up to the album’s release. “He had a big grid on the wall—it was a war room of every song that he was writing and where he was in terms of finishing it. He had enough songs for three albums.”
The artist, who kept his circle of co-writers close on past albums—Jim Beavers, co-producer Brett Beavers and Steve Bogard are regular collaborators—expanded his horizons on “Feel That Fire” by writing with Rodney Crowell, Rivers Rutherford and Brad and Brett Warren, among others. The introspective “Better Believer,” which he wrote with Rutherford, is one of his favorite songs on the album; collaborating with Crowell on the tender “Pray” was another highlight. As for “Beautiful World,” Bentley says teaming with Patti Griffin was his first choice. “I’m a huge fan of Patti, my wife is a gigantic fan of Patti. We listen to her music a lot and her voice just kills me, and that’s why I wanted her to be on this record,” he says. Bentley shows his bluegrass roots with “Last Call,” a duet with Ronnie McCoury, the son of legendary bluegrass star Del McCoury.
Since hitting the scene in 2003, Bentley has amassed an impressive track record at country radio. Of his 11 singles, 10 have made it into the top 10 on the Hot Country Songs chart and five—“What Was I Thinkin’,” “Come a Little Closer,” “Settle for a Slowdown,” “Every Mile a Memory” and “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)”—have hit No. 1.
Bentley will hit the road in January for two months’ worth of dates in Canada and the United States along with fellow Opry member Brad Paisley. In May, he’ll head to Australia with Brooks & Dunn. “The thought of going over and experiencing another culture and mingling with that culture is something that’s intrigued him,” Dungan says. “He’s gone off and booked himself around the world, and we’ve said, ‘Why?,’ and he said, ‘Because I want to.’ ”
As much as Bentley enjoys international touring—he’s hit clubs and festivals in England, Ireland, Germany, Norway, France and Japan—he’s modest about his chances of becoming an international star. “I don’t ever expect to conquer Europe and be a household name over there, but that’s not why I’m doing it,” he says. “Everything I do does not just revolve around reaching some goal or selling some records or winning some award. It revolves around making the most out of every day and the opportunities that come your way.”