My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Dierks Bentley – ‘Up On The Ridge’

I’ll confess that I’ve had my reservations about this long-awaited fifth studio album from Dierks Bentley. Originally Dierks and Capitol had planned to release two albums this year — a bluegrass album and a “regular” country album. When it was announced that the plans had been changed, that only one album would be released and that it would be bluegrass-influenced but not exactly “pure” bluegrass, I feared that the label was back-pedaling due to a lack of confidence that bluegrass would sell in today’s market. My fears were not allayed with the single release of the somewhat disappointing title track. My main gripe was the overly-processed harmony vocals. I’m not a bluegrass purist; I’m not bothered at all by the inclusion of electric and percussion instruments, but Alison Krauss’ usually distinctive voice was unrecognizable and it just sounded out of place on a bluegrass(ish) recording.

It was, therefore, a tremendous relief to hear the remainder of the album, which is a lot closer to what I’d had in mind all along. Dierks is joined by an impressive guest roster of musicians from both the bluegrass and mainstream country communities; Alison Krauss, Ronnie and Del McCoury, The Punch Brothers, Sam Bush, Jamey Johnson, Miranda Lambert, and Kris Kristofferson are among the artists lending their talents to the project, which was produced by Jon Randall Stewart, an accomplished musician in his own right.

The album is an interesting mixture of of traditional songs such as “Fiddlin’ Around” and “You’re Dead To Me” and more progressive fare such as “Fallin’ For You” and “Pride (In The Name Of Love)”. There are also touches of folk and rock on a reworked version of Bob Dylan’s “Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)” on which Dierks is joined by progressive bluegrass band The Punch Brothers. The Punch Brothers also contributed to the more traditional “Rovin’ Gambler” as well as the aforementioned “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” which also features Del McCoury and sounds like something from a SteelDrivers album. There are even some modern classical elements, a Punch Brothers trademark, included on “Pride”. The Punch Brothers are a band that I’m going to have to check out more thoroughly in the future.

Bentley shares co-writing credit on five of the album’s twelve tracks, four of them with producer Stewart. The remaining songs come mainly from the catalogs of some of Nashville’s finest songwriters: Shawn Kemp, Paul Kennerley, Verlon Thompson, Tim O’Brien, Kris Kristofferson and Buddy and Julie Miller. Thompson wrote “Bad Angel” along with Suzi Ragsdale. On this track, Dierks is joined by Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson, who both provide fine vocal performances on one of the best tracks on the album. Kristofferson contributes a characteristically rough duet vocal on his 1969 composition “Bottle To The Bottom”. Closing out the album is “Down In The Mine”, one of the songs Bentley and Stewart wrote together. It’s reminsicent of the often-recorded Merle Travis classic “Dark As A Dungeon.” Stewart and Sonya Isaacs provide beautiful harmony vocals. As the song and the album wind down, it just left me wanting more.

The title track is currently at #25 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs Chart. Whether it will gain enough momentum to reach the Top 10 remains to be seen, as does whether or not subsequent singles will chart well. It would be nice to hear some of these songs on the radio; they provide a much-needed antidote to the ubiquitous pop-country currently rulilng the airwaves. In the end, though, I suspect that this may be one of those albums that manages to sell well without a lot of radio support. But regardless of its fate at radio and retail, Up On The Ridge is an excellent example of artistry and an essential purchase for any serious country music fan.

Up On The Ridge is available at retail stores, as well as at Amazon and iTunes.

Grade: A

8 responses to “Album Review: Dierks Bentley – ‘Up On The Ridge’

  1. Steve from Boston June 11, 2010 at 11:26 am

    Nice review Razor, I liked the album too, though not quite as much as you did..But I certainly agree with may of your observations.

    DB’s vocals, lacking that classic “high lonesome sound” of a Ralph Stanley or a Del McCoury, and also lacking some technical proficiency of say a Dan Tyminski, was the weak link for me. Even as a Country singer, his voice often seems strained, to my ears anyway. But it is distinctive and has character, and ultimately, I do think he pulls it off.

    But I have been spoiled by the exceptional qualitly of Patty Loveless’ Mountain Soul albums, and the comparison is apt especially given the similarities of Down in the Mine to You’ll Never Leave Harlan alive. The Bently/ Randall song has some awesome and meaningful lyrics, but it just cannot compare with the dignified and devastating Loveless classic. Or even the similar themed offerings from Kathy Mattea’s Coal allbum.

    Compared to those albums, I think Up On the Ridge comes up a bit short, but compared to today’s “country” or even judged in isolation on it’s own merits, it is a very strong breath of fresh air. And I hope Nashville is watching with interest and will take note. I’m especially hoping this record will inspire Sara Evans to return to her roots, she has it in her to do a world-class Bluegrass album.

  2. john June 11, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    I heard this today……….don’t like it at all.

  3. pwdennis June 12, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Pretty decent record but a long way from an ‘A’ – I would give it a ‘B’.

    I would have preferred it to be more bluegrass and less acoustic modern country and a couple of the selections (most notably “Senor” and “Pride”) are inferior material for use on this sort of project . As noted above, Dierks really has a fairly limitted vocal range although his distinctive stylings enable him (like Ernest Tubb, Floyd Tillman, Charlie Walker and so many others before) to get away with it

    The outstanding track on this collection is “Rovin’ Gambler”

    A friend who was in the car with me when I was listening to this the other day commented – “half killer – half road-kill” . I think that is a bit harsh, I’d say “half excellent, half average”, but still , I was hoping for a bit better

  4. Occasional Hope June 13, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    I like it, although not quite as much as his first couple of albums. But I do applaud him for making a serious record based on artistic integrity rather than the desperate pandering to radio’s lowest common denominator so many of his peers are doing.

  5. Tom O June 24, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    I could not disagree with PwDennis more. “Pride” may very well be one of the best crossover bluegrass songs ever. The Del McCoury vocals on this song are almost beyond belief. If Del got any higher he would break windows and knock buildings down. I bought this album soley for Pride which I originally heard on Sirius Bluegrass. However there are numerous other tunes that I enjoyed and because of the collaboration I have become a Dierks Bentley fan as well.

  6. Andrew Leprich July 26, 2010 at 8:03 am

    I was distinctly underwhelmed by the title track, but after all the positive reviews I purchased this album with some trepidation. I must say I am thoroughly impressed. Outside of the title track, this album is of consistently good quality, and in my estimation a contender for album of the year by a major label artist. I agree that Dierks deserves major props for creating an album in the name of artistry instead of hewing to commercial demands.

    I agree with the consensus that the cover of “Pride” feels a bit unnecessary and out of place, but I thought Del singing the chorus in his high lonesome tenor was nothing short of great.

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