The Hot Country Knights' The K Is Silent, is a musical mullet: Dierks Bentley's band of Murfreesboro, Tenn., misfits from a bygone era are all (okay, mostly) '90s country business in the front, but a true party for genre geeks in the back.
The Knights -- Bentley and his backing band in their finest acid-wash jeans, windbreakers and mullet wigs -- have been waiting 30 years for their mainstream break, so their bio explains. Until recently, when Bentley (sometimes referred to by the band as Dirk Brantley or Jerks Gently) agreed to produce them, they were playing other artists' greatest hits at Teasers in Murfreesboro. The K Is Silent is their debut album, released on Friday (May 1) via Bentley's record label, UMG Nashville, which is no doubt capitalizing on the current wave of '90s country nostalgia.
Okay, so there's some buy-in required here, but Bentley and company are committed: They've been doing interviews in character, impressively without breaking, and are clearly having quite a bit of fun with this whole thing. And fans who stick with the schtick are in for a treat: a '90s country homage that's full of nods, both subtle and not so subtle, to the artists, sounds and styles of one of the genre's heydays.
Bentley's co-writers on The K Is Silent include frequent collaborator and former Martina McBride and Lee Ann Womack bandleader Brett Beavers and his brother Jim; "Whiskey Lullaby" writer Jon Randall, a solo artist in the '90s and part of Emmylou Harris' band for her iconic, Ryman Auditorium-reviving 1992 live album; and others, who imbue Brad Paisley-style humor into the album's 10 tracks.
The longer you listen to the record, the more you get in on the jokes -- and realize that Bentley and his co-writers are true fans and students of country music. Even when they're not sending up specific genre tropes ("The USA Begins With Us") or songs ("Then It Rained"), they're playing with its keystones: innuendo-filled love songs ("You Make It Hard"), lovelorn waltzes ("Mull It Over") and odes to the road ("Asphalt").
For fellow country music nerds, part of the fun of The K Is Silent will be how many '90s hits come to mind as they're listening. Here are a few we can't stop singing now:
We can't help but think of Diffie's 1996 single when we hear the Knights spell out their name in this album leader. There's also some serious Alan Jackson vibes going on.
Chesney's ode to the ladies who love a man on a tractor would fit right alongside this HCK song, which features Travis Tritt and was the band's first official single, on a playlist. You could follow them both up with Joe Diffie's "Pickup Man," too.
"Asphalt" retains the bittersweet vibe of Womack's late-'90s Top 5 hit but adds ... well, a bunch of butt puns.
In "Moose Knuckle Shuffle," the Hot Country Knights break down outside a small town and wind up learning a new dance. Sound familiar? This song is a straight-up homage to Byrd's hit and the '90s line dance craze, with the melody to match. As such, Buddy Brock and Zack Turner, the co-writers of "Watermelon Crawl," are credited writers.
"Then It Rained" Reminds Us of ...Garth Brooks' "The Thunder Rolls"
The punchline of this Brett Beavers, Jon Nite and Jon Randall co-write is that the action never quite happens. The melody and style of "Then It Rained" evoke "The Thunder Rolls" (but apparently isn't similar enough to require credit to Brooks and co-writer Pat Alger), to the point that listeners are waiting for that moment when everything comes to a head -- but all it does is rain, stop for a little while and rain again.
This match isn't quite as spot-on as some, but when we think '90s honky-tonk-ready country and tight jeans, we think Dwight Yoakam.
The King of Country is a king of the country waltz, though it's hard to imagine him delivering one with a chorus that includes the lines "Baby, maybe you should mull it over ... Take me back and I swear I'll love you / Longer than the hair on my shoulders." Still, the steel guitar and plaintive delivery make for a spot-on parody.
"You Make It Hard" Reminds Us of ...Literally Every Tim McGraw + Faith Hill Duet
There's nothing subtle about this Terri Clark duet -- but, then again, there was nothing subtle about "Let's Make Love," either.
Just when you think the Hot Country Knights couldn't possibly be more over the top, The K Is Silent concludes with the their entry into country music's lengthy list of patriotic tunes. There are "U.S.A." chants and "boo!"s for China at the right spots in Douglason's lightly jingoistic speech -- a nice touch -- though things start to go off the rails with snippets of infamous Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton speeches.