What’s interesting about the circumstances of ‘I Hold On’ as a single is that it is second in command to ‘Bourbon In Kentucky’, originally the lead single from Dierks’ ‘Riser’ project. I say originally because after a lack of success from ‘Bourbon’ (not enough trucks or cut-off jeans in it), the label pulled it, and now his website states that ‘I Hold On’ is the lead single. Bit embarrassed about the flop, are we?
‘Bourbon In Kentucky’ was much loved by fans and critics, and there was plenty of disappointment on social media when it was announced the single had been pulled. However, that’s not to say that ‘I Hold On’ is lacking, at all. It dances around a similar key and plenty of similar notes to its predecessor but it’s faster, though it still fits into the emotional country rock ballad mould. Despite the rock influence, however, they make sure to cover the whole spectrum of pitch, with deep electric guitar strumming and driving adrenaline-inducing drums, juxtaposed against bright acoustic guitar, pedal steel and dobro. This song has touches of brilliance musically not in its technicality, but rather in its faithful loyalty to country music yet the rock aspect that is perfect for stadiums, gets your heart racing, and gives the track an ‘epic’ feel.
In fact, it is ideal to complement the lyrics that Dierks cites as being about “faith, love and freedom”, something that apparently sums him up. According to him, this would be the song he would play you if you asked him to describe himself in three minutes. That’s some accolade to dole out to a song, but perhaps it’s warranted. The combination of music and lyrics seem to touch an emotional chord for me every time I play it (and also gets me singing along instantly), one of those things that cannot be explained by any music fan, but merely enjoyed. [On a side note, this phenomenon has been referred to as “jouissance” (shwee-sonce) by the French semiologist Roland Barthes, that moment of total listening bliss. There’s something to impress your friends.]
Written by Dierks and Brett James, lyrically ‘I Hold On’ draws on a major theme of ‘Riser’, in intertwining the story of Dierks’ father’s death (“like a boy to his dad”), and building upon it. ‘I Hold On’ tells of all the beat-up objects people hold onto for sentimental value (such as guitars, trucks etc) and also all the ideals and values that are so quintessentially American in their make-up. This song is easily an anthem and one that will be terribly important to a lot of people. Every lyric is meaningful and has a wider context beyond the story down on paper. Surely that’s all we ask of a country song?
If this does not hit #1 it will be a sore injustice indeed. Dierks is at the top of his game, and I don’t think I am being presumptuous when I say that ‘Riser’ will be a career-defining album.