Song Review: Dierks Bentley, “Gold”

Honestly, this is what I wanted Blake Shelton’s “No Body” to sound like.

Zack Kephart wrote a poignant article recently on the generational turnover within country music and how quickly artists can move from defining the genre to complete irrelevance, and it appears that Dierks Bentley is on the business end of this cycle right now. Yes, his chart performance is still strong (“Gone” made it to #2, “Beers On Me” to #1), but #1 songs aren’t the indicator of popularity that they once were, and other warning signs are started to flash: For example, the pace of his chart climbs has slowed to where he’s only dropped one single a year since 2019, and it’s been over four years since we’ve seen a new album (or even an EP) from him. You get the sense that after almost twenty years in the business, Bentley is slowly being shown the door, and nothing short of a monster hit will delay the inevitable.

So is “Gold” the monster hit Bentley needs to stay afloat? No, but it’s a step in the right direction, a rare note of optimism and a literal and figurative silver lining in the face our current beer/truck/Ex-Boyfriend era. Bentley might be on his way out, but I’d like to think that he’s at least leaving on his own terms.

This isn’t the tribute to 90s country that “No Body” is (and it isn’t meant to be), but there’s a throwback feel to the production nonetheless, capturing that 2000s-era spirit that Chris Owen preaches about and that Bentley broke in with long ago. It’s a by-the-book guitar-and-drum mix at its core, but there’s a fair bit of variety within each category: The acoustic guitar sets the tone in the opener and joins with an electric axe to form the foundation of the chorus, while a squealing electric guitar provides accents over the top and handles lead duties on the bridge solo (even if the solo isn’t terribly intricate). The drums are mostly real (Grady Smith’s favorite clap track is here too), but the sounds are rich and diverse enough that even when the percussion is left alone for most of the verses, it manages to hold your attention and help drive the song forward. The instrument synergy here is surprisingly good: The pieces’ bright tones blend together beautifully while still maintaining the identity of each individual player (no indistinguishable wall of noise here), and the result is a warm, full-feeling sound that conveys a sense of unbridled happiness and contentment that complements the writing perfectly. (The faster tempo here compared to “No Body” can’t be overstated here either: It helps keep the energy level up and lets the song steadily build momentum over time.) Unlike Shelton’s track, this is fun to listen to, and it’s been a while since I’ve said this about a radio single.

Vocally, this song is a really good fit for Bentley for three reasons:

  • As one of the senior members of the genre, he’s can speak to his audience from a place of experience and authority in a way that newer artists can’t (honestly, I think even Thanos would struggle to sell this song, to say nothing of stiffs like Dustin Lynch).
  • I’ve always considered Bentley and Eric Church to be the true heirs of the outlaw movement in country music, and Bentley’s leaning in to that drifting, carefree persona over the years (“Lot Of Leavin’ Left To Do,” “Free And Easy Down The Road I Go,” etc.) lets him come across as the guy who’s really put these miles on his shoes, so when he says it’s about the journey and not the destination, you believe him.
  • Bentley’s sung his share of sad songs over the years, but he’s also pretty good when talking about the sunny side of life (compare this to the dark turn Shelton’s taken over the last few years). Bentley’s proven on tracks like “Living” that he can play the optimist card when he needs to.

So yes, I’d say this song is squarely in Bentley’s wheelhouse. That’s not to say, however, that this is a case of “right place, right time,” as he’s able to match the warmth and energy of the sound while also bringing some confident determination to the table to show that he practices what he preaches. It’s the sort of charismatic performance that gets people to buy what he’s selling, and serves as a reminder of why Bentley has lasted this long in the genre.

So what is Bentley selling? Basically, this is a “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” tale, with the narrator counseling his listeners not to develop tunnel vision on their end goal and appreciate the things around them along the way. It’s not much, but it’s something, and it feels like a natural progression from the awakening experienced in “Living.” The hook isn’t terribly good (“feels like gold” is a really awkward phrase), and of course the writers find a way to sneak in some buzzwords (enjoy the ride…at night! In a rusty Chevrolet!), but they managed to sneak in a decent line or two as well (“You finally find that greener grass but you’re still in the weeds” is my favorite). In a world that seems to be spinning at an increasingly-fast rate, a song like this resonates because sometimes we need a reminder to stay in the moment and appreciate the things around us, and while we’ve got plenty of party songs that preach staying in the (inebriated) moment, this song doesn’t have the odor of complacency and willful ignorance that said party songs give off. We’re still working towards something here, but we don’t want to do it at the expense of our happiness and well-being, and this track asks its audience to take stock of their situation to make sure they’re enjoying the ride. It’s the sort of takeaway that I wish more songs would offer, and while it may not be groundbreaking, it’s still important.

“Gold” is a straightforward song that features perfect execution from everyone involved. The writing is solid and thought-provoking, the production is upbeat and features great synergy, and Dierks Bentley states his case with a level of skill and charm that shows why he’s lasted this long in the music business. He may be playing the last few holes of his mainstream career, but he’s still got something to say and he’s still got a knack for saying it, and it’ll be really hard to see him go with so little indication that anyone will be able to fill his shoes properly. My hope is that he’ll at least be able to finagle another album out of his current deal, but even if it doesn’t happen, I hope he reaches the end of his own musical journey knowing that he found something to smile about every step of the way.

Rating: 6/10. This one’s worth a few spins on the turntable to see how it strikes you.