It’s a romantically obsessive album — and who hasn’t been in that boat? The title track kicks off Black way more brazen than the male country norm as Dierks Bentley traces fingertips to her lips, his hands know just where to go, he says he’ll “flip that switch,” he’s flat on his back, then eventually he blacks out. Get a room, you two! The woman in question is presumably his wife, Cassidy, whose maiden name provides the album’s title.
There’s an equally steamy cheating-song duet called “I’ll Be The Moon.” The heavenly body being snuck out on in the middle of night is the sun, and a decent Stevie Nicks approximation is provided by Maren Morris, whose gospel-sanctified Top 5 hit “My Church” might make her country music’s Rookie of the Year.
Getting cheated on? Not so fun. “Why Do I Feel” is neurotic and worried and ultimately slides into a dark ditch of self-doubt as Dierks wonders if they can go on together with his suspicious mind. He’s pushing her away, and needs to get a grip!
Those seductive songs get spare and spacious production from Ross Copperman, who’s had a hand in writing several recent country hits such as Keith Urban’s “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16.” In fact, the electronic touches on Urban’s recent Ripcord and Sam Hunt’s Montevallo are close cousins to Black’s sound, and in the song “Black,” after a minute, synthesized beats audibly enter the picture.
“Pick Up” and “Roses and a Time Machine” are obsessed in a different way — and pretty clever about it. In the former, Dierks repeatedly rings up somebody who just dumped him, but mainly it’s a rotating list of items that can be “picked up”: the phone, wine, her (in his pickup truck), the pieces (“right where we left off.”) Some sweet slide guitar pickup work, too. “Roses and a Time Machine,” meanwhile, appropriately has the most futuristic sound on the album, with intercepted voices from space, though by now the Space Age means nostalgia — hence, Back to the Future references and talk of DeLoreans and space-time black holes so he can return to the past and fix what he screwed up. It’s also pretty likely the first country song to mention both transcendental meditation and Craigslist.
“Can’t Be Replaced,” meanwhile, evinces nostalgia for the summer of ’89 — Chevy Cavaliers, Memorex mix tapes, Boone’s Farm smooches.
And “Freedom”’s just another word for… telling the boss to shove it, kissing away a broken heart, obtaining daddy’s car keys, and obligatory flag waving (it’s a country album, after all), in choogling shuffle form. And “Somewhere on a Beach,” a midpoint between Kenny Chesney and bro-country where Dierks calls his ex from some sunny place, “sipping something strong” and gloating about a new companion who inspires him to rhyme “naughty” with “body,” evokes its own freedom, no doubt.
Naturally there is also a drunk dialing song, an increasingly pop-country staple, ever since Lady Antebellum’s great “Need You Now” broke the bank all those years ago. “What the Hell Did I Say” Dierks asks himself, mere hungover hours after leaving a 3 a.m. voicemail enjoyable enough that she returns the call within hours, over a vaguely far-Eastern guitar figure. What was he thinkin’?
Elle King drops by. Her banjo skills probably made an eventual country crossover inevitable, but here it’s her raw vocal rasp that helps “Different For Girls” suggest guys can just move on with some whiskey after a breakup, but for women the transition is trickier. This theory would seem to contradict much of the rest of Black’s lyrics and King’s bleacher-stomping pop smash “Ex’s and Oh’s” last year (where the whole point was that she couldn’t shake her needy former boyfriends), not to mention Joe Jackson’s similarly titled “It’s Different For Girls” from 1979.
Black’s most intriguing collaboration is with Trombone Shorty on “Mardi Gras.” The New Orleans jazzbo’s horn provides a wobbling second-line march rhythm unlike anything attempted on a mainstream country record since Jerrod Niemann’s Free the Music in 2002, though you could actually trace the hybrid all the way back to 1930 when Louis Armstrong helped out Jimmie Rodgers in “Blue Yodel #9.” What comes around, goes around.