NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Dierks Bentley bought a plane, but it was no country star vanity purchase.
The singer long ago earned his pilot's license but thought he had no use for it as he chased his music dreams. One day, though, he realized that if he could fly to some of his gigs instead of stepping on a bus, he'd get an extra day at home.
"Since the kids came around, it's just this push and pull to cut corners, being on the road, being home, trying to get home faster," Bentley said. "I can't afford to sit in the back right seat of a jet, but I realized I could afford to sit in the front left seat of a prop plane. ... I get that one extra night with my kids. That may not seem like much, but it is. "
That push and pull is at the heart of Bentley's new album, "Riser," out recently. His seventh studio LP bobs back and forth between contemplative songs examining themes of family and loss and party rockers that play best in the 38-year-old's boisterous live show.
It's among his most personal work. His father died near the beginning of the writing and recording process. And his first son and third child, Knox, was born toward the end, offering Bentley a wealth of reflections and emotions to sift.
"There were times in the months after he passed that I'd pick up the phone to call him about something funny or whatever," Bentley said of his father. "I still have his number in my phone. And when the kids are a little older, now is when I really need to talk to him, not when they're born. My daughter's losing her tooth, and I want to ask him, 'Did you really do the string thing where you tied it around my tooth and slammed the door? I'm pretty sure you did.'"
Bentley looks at family life and grown-up themes on songs like the title track, "Damn These Dreams," "I Hold On" and "Here on Earth," which looks at the grief of losing a child and was inspired by the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
At the same time, Bentley spends at least three nights a week on the road a majority of weeks, and the album has plenty of cuts with titles like "Drunk on a Plane" and "Pretty Girls."
"I can still relate to the 17-year-old kid who jacks his truck up because my truck's out there and it's still jacked up," he said. "But I also get to be this guy who has this really full life."