By mixing bro-pleasing songs about carousing and boozing with more sober lamentations on fatherhood and death, "country's hottest guy" has -- finally -- grown into a bona fide star.

My career has been like that ramp," Dierks Bentley says, crossing a dirt parking lot as he leaves a Billboard photo shoot. He nods in the direction of a long loading ramp that slopes up from the mud onto the rear of a flatbed truck. The simile isn't entirely accurate -- his career arc has included a precipitous dip in the middle -- but the idea of a gradual climb holds true for Bentley, a tortoise among hares.

Subscribe to billboard biz to continue reading this article and thousands more. subscribers get:
  • 24/7 coverage of every genre and sector of the business with over 150 exclusive charts
  • Bulletin: Breaking stories, chart info and analysis sent directly to your inbox every weekday
  • Billboard Magazine iPad Edition: An enhanced version of the magazine with video, photo galleries and playable charts
  • Archives: A rich history of articles and exclusive charts

Join now or Log In