Five years and three albums into a career might seem a bit premature for a greatest hits anthology, but Every Mile a Memory proves that Dierks Bentley’s string of Top 10 singles represents both quantity and quality that few of his contemporaries in mainstream country can match. The 10 singles assembled here are uniformly excellent, illustrating Bentley’s ability to bring his love of the outlaw country of Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard into a modern pop-country context. He’s not a staunch traditionalist in the Brad Paisley vein, but Bentley’s best songs—“Lot of Leaving Left to Do,” “Come a Little Closer,” and “Long Trip Alone” are the highlights of the set—reflect an awareness of both the form and content of country songwriting, while his production doesn’t shy away from memorable, slick pop hooks. The album’s four live tracks—selected by members of his fan club—lose a good deal of the studio polish, but the songs are strong enough to withstand a more ragged, aggressive performance, and, unlike most of Nashville’s current A-list male vocalists, Bentley doesn’t need to rely on ProTools. The live cuts definitely flesh out the anthology and make it essential for Bentley’s die-hard fans, but the two new songs, “Sweet & Wild” and “With the Band,” are noticeably weaker than “Settle for a Slowdown” and “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go).” Still, the album works as a testament to Bentley’s emerging status as one of modern country’s true go-to artists—his music is simply better than the bulk of what gets played on the radio, and he’s had a bigger, more consistent commercial presence than other critics’ favorites like Gary Allan, Miranda Lambert, and Little Big Town. The only knock against the set is that Bentley’s studio albums, particularly 2006’s Long Trip Alone, are all worth owning, which makes Memory a bit redundant.
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