After making his mark as a successful pop country artist, Dierks Bentley is taking a risk with his much anticipated Up On The Ridge. But, great music awaits, as it turns out to be a strong statement by a mature and confident artist. Bentley’s love and respect for bluegrass music is well known, and he confirms it in perhaps the best recording of his career.
The opening title track is pretty much the only hint of the featherweight pop that’s formed much of the foundation of Bentley’s success. But with that out of the way, the album embarks on a well crafted journey through a landscape of music gems. Bentley and producer Jon Randall draw from the best known names in bluegrass and country music. Bryan Sutton, Stuart Duncan, Sam Bush, Ronnie McCoury, Rob Ickes, Randy Kohrs, Alison Krauss, and more lend their immense talents.
Highlights are many: a delightfully wry “You’re Dead To Me,” co-written by Tim O’Brien, Randall, and Bentley; the quietly romantic “Draw Me A Map”; and the wrenching “Down In The Mine” are just a few. He gets solid contributions from country hard-ballers Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson on “Bad Angel” and the mighty Kris Kristofferson on “Bottom Of The Bottle.” But, the real genius is best found on the cuts with the Punch Brothers (Chris Thile, Gabe Witcher, Noam Pikelney, Chris Eldridge, and Paul Kowert), supplying some serious bluegrass punch. One is an immensely powerful rendering of Bob Dylan’s “Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power)” on which Bentley’s world-weary baritone is perfectly complemented by Thile, who has developed into a mature and expressive singer. Del McCoury provides some passionate and hair-raising vocals on U2’s “In The Name Of Love.” And, both Bentley and the Punch Brothers throw down their bluegrass bona fides with a smokin’ version of “Roving Gambler,” breathing fire into a well-worn, perhaps even overdone classic tune.
Ultimately, Up On The Ridge is more country music than by-the-book bluegrass, but worthy of special attention to bluegrass lovers. It’s what we wish country music was still like, but, in most cases, no longer is. Mostly acoustic with profoundly good songwriting, tasteful production and strongly bluegrass-influenced, all wrapped into in a modern, forward looking package, this is an important recording for listeners and for Dierks Bentley. If it reflects his genuine vision for his music, let’s have more like it…please. (Capitol Records, 3322 West End Ave., 11th Fl., Nashville, TN 37203, www.capitolnashville.com.) AWIII