Stuff a sock down your pants, unearth your razor shades, bust out the acid wash, and get ready to party like it’s 1989 because what started as a cover band stage gag back in 2015 has now become a full-blown major label release with original songs and radio single. It’s called Hot Country Knights, and it’s like nothing country music has seen or heard in a very long time.
Dierks Bentley has long been regarded as one of the more favorable figures among the ranks of mainstream country performers, even for those that took a sledge hammer to their radio years ago. It’s a pock marked legacy for sure, with demerits against Dierks for things like “Drunk On A Plane” or his terrible 2016 record Black. But once again he proves to be one of the good guys by releasing a side-splitting, self-aware, and super fun record under the pseudonym Douglas “Doug” Douglason and Hot Country Knights.
It isn’t just the sounds and modes of 80’s and 90’s country the Hot Country Knights are looking to revitalize here. It’s not just about taking older names like Travis Tritt and Terry Clark and shining a renewed spotlight on them. With The ‘K’ Is Silent, Dierks Bentley and his road band lean into a long-established tradition among country performers of launching alter egos to record humorous music full of self-deprecation and sometimes sexual innuendo. Just like fiddle and steel guitar, this was once a rite of passage that has been regrettably lost in most modern country. It’s a tradition that goes all the way back to the very first presentations on the Grand Ole Opry and country’s Vaudevillian legacy.
Comedian Minnie Pearl had just as much to do with country music’s early popularity as Roy Acuff—a guy who secretly recorded smut country on the side as well. The recent death of original Statler Brothers member Harold Reid who was in the lead for the quartet’s alter ego Lester “Roadhog” Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys reminds us that even the most buttoned-up country acts would dabble in comedy in the past. Rest assured that when Dierks Bentley eventually kicks the bucket, two big bullet points he’ll be remembered for will be having the balls to release a bluegrass album in 2010, and a ridiculous and hilarious comedy album ten years later.
But none of this historical significance would matter if the music sucked and the jokes fell flat, or the whole operation felt fuddy duddy, or ran afoul of the wrong people in this stuffy and hyper sensitive social environment we find ourselves in. This record was a risk for sure, and requires a lot of critical calculations to know where not to cross lines. But soliciting significant help from songwriters Brett and Jim Beavers among others, and letting his backing band loose to rip on some actual country music, Dierks Bentley (or Douglas “Doug” Douglason) has released one of the more interesting and fun mainstream country records of the last few years.
“Pick Her Up” is a scathing take on stereotypical country, and an absolute banger of a song. And if you liked the radio version, you’ll love the extended take on the album. Not only do Hot Country Knights make fun of many country lyrical cliches—possibly done best in the hilarious Garth Brooks-esque “Then It Rained”—they also hit you with ridiculous sequences of key changes and static note solos that are as side splitting as the verses.
And Dierks is more than willing to test the boundaries of #MeToo sensibilities with songs like the very cleverly-written “Asphalt,” or “Moose Knuckle Shuffle,” and the more subtle “You Make It Hard” with Terri Clark. He even runs up against that holiest of holy subjects in the mainstream, which is the overpatriotic sappy Lee Greenwood-style anthem, which he justly lampoons with “The USA Begins with US.”
A lot of comparisons will be made to Wheeler Walker Jr. here, which is understandable. But comedian Ben Hoffman wasn’t doing anything especially new. Nobody had taken it as far as he’d done before, at least to a wide audience. But one record was probably enough for that bit. Three albums and trying to turn Wheeler Walker Jr. into a full-time gig proved way too taxing, and tacky. Turning the smut to 10 and side stepping the need for innuendo and double entendres, Wheeler Walker Jr. painted himself into a corner and wore out his welcome too quickly. It’s still fair to characterize the laughs of Hot Country Knights as a short-lived like most humorous country music, but when you rely on wordplay as opposed to mere shock value, you leave yourself somewhere to go.
Many artists, independent and mainstream, talk about doing something like this. Dierks Bentley actually did it, and did it damn well. It’s fair to point out that as the record goes along, the writing and even the music begin to feel a little more thin. “You Make It Hard” really doesn’t hold your attention for long, and “The USA Begins With US” gets a little lost. It’s not a masterpiece of country comedy, it’s just amazing that an established mainstream country star was willing and able to release something like this in 2020, and the entire country world is better off for it.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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