Dierks Bentley occupies a unique place in country music. Somehow managing rebel/honky-tonk cred while staying in the country pop/heartthrob category is no easy task, but Bentely is one of the few guys who can pull it off.
Some might have thought it strange when Bentley announced an upcoming bluegrass record, but most fans rolled with it. I guess if anybody could do it, it would Mr. B.
I was pumped to see Up On The Ridge previewed through Rhapsody’s unlimited play-program so I invested a couple of days digging into the record. This is a great record and if country music fans will give it a chance, it could be really move a lot of units and garner tons of airplay.
Bentley seems to have a pretty pure approach, but I’ll admit I was afraid this would be pop/country just mixed with more mandolin and fiddle. It would have not surprised me to hear the pop simply dialed down. Because I like “new country,” I didn’t expect to be heartbroken by it, but I had set my sights a little low.
Song #1 put all those fears to rest. Granted, couple of songs lean more toward the pop side of country music, but this is bluegrass plain and simple. Drums show up a couple of places, which isn’t necessarily bluegrass, but otherwise it’s an authentic record.
Bentley’s done an impressive thing here. He’s kept the music true to its origins and yet has managed to stretch just a bit. Most noticeable are the “blues” chord voicings you’d hear in his earlier works now blended into these bluegrass songs. Whereas O Brother, Where Art Thou endeavored to capture a freeze-frame of what this musical form used to be like, Dierks Bentley seems to have found small spots to stretch the genre without changing the overall tone of the project.
There are quite a few guests on the project (Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers, Del McCoury, Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson.) Not too shabby. There really isn’t a bad song on the record. Personally, I found “Up On The Ridge,” “Senor” and “Rovin’ Gambler” to be some of the strongest works. As a longtime U2 fan, I also have to acknowledge Bentley and the Punch Brothers’ take on “Pride (In The Name Of Love.)” If that sounds awesome, that’s because it is.
Up On The Ridge should go down as one of Bentley’s most ambitious and memorable projects. The songs are sincere and the approach is simple and refreshing. Modern country and bluegrass fans alike will find something to love on this record.