Looking for Country’s Next Breakout Female? Ask Dierks Bentley
Throw Elle King in for good measure. All of these women have been featured collaborators on Dierks Bentley's studio albums, and lately he's selected female artists on the cusp of a major breakthrough.
How does he know?!
"I've been really lucky," he says, pointing out that he's worked with "not just people that have record deals, but great songwriters, too. Jessi Alexander, Heather Morgan — just a lot of great singer-songwriters."
Come on Dierks, luck? Songs with Morris, Musgraves and Carlile dropped just before each exploded, which means they were envisioned and recorded months prior. Heck, even Little Big Town weren't the group we know them as today when Fairchild cut "When You Gonna Come Around" with Bentley for his 2012 Home album. Give yourself some credit, son!
"Kacey came a long time ago I guess," Bentley says with absolute modesty. "I just liked her voice and thought she'd be great on that particular song. Maren came in a couple albums ago and same thing. They both just came in by themselves, which is great. They parked the car and walked into the studio."
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"Bourbon in Kentucky" (featuring Musgraves) dropped in spring 2013, just months after she debuted with the Same Trailer, Different Park album. "I'll Be the Moon" with Morris was on Black in May 2016, as she was working her debut single "My Church." Even "Travellin' Light" (from The Mountain) with Carlile was somewhat visionary. Those who knew her then knew she was a supreme talent, but she was still two years away from a huge night at the Grammys when Bentley started texting her about this song. She was a niche Americana artist.
"We had a lot of laughs over text because her wife was getting ready to deliver a baby," he says, recalling a 2017 exchange that followed Carlile's set at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. "I sent her the song via email, which I'd never done before, and she sent it back three days later."
This year, he points out, Carlile is headlining Telluride, and he'll be front row.
A few collaborators (like Krauss) were arguably bigger stars than Bentley when they cut songs with him. Lambert recorded "Bad Angel" for his Up on a Ridge album in 2010. That one is a draw, as she'd just scored her first Top 5 hit prior to the album's release. We'll call it a win-win.
"None of that has been calculated," Bentley insists. "I didn’t even know how to do it back then, where there is a certain amount they need to be on to be qualified for a Grammy nomination."
That's something he'd figure out by the time he called on pop star King for "Different for Girls." Their duet from Black was nominated in 2017. That was his most recent Grammy nomination, but it's hard to imagine it being the last time he submits a male-female collaboration for consideration. Celebrating women in country music seems to come naturally to him. It's worth noting here that he's currently on tour with Tenille Townes.
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