19 June 2010

Album Review: "Up on the Ridge" by Dierks Bentley

Up on the Ridge
Dierks Bentley
CD Release Date: 8 June 2010

I hadn't even planned on buying this album so soon, but when Amazon raised the price on Chely Wright's Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer by a couple bucks, I decided to wait on that and instead added this album by Dierks Bentley to my shopping cart.  I liked him from the first time I heard "What Was I Thinkin'" back in 2003, but for one reason or another, I haven't kept up with his albums since 2006's Long Trip Alone.  Anyway, I'm thrilled to have indulged and bought what may be the strongest album in his discography to date.

What makes Up on the Ridge so appealing is that it's obviously not a commercial record.  From start to finish, this is a modern bluegrass album.  I'm sure the marketing department would prefer to call it "acoustic," but with Chris Thile, Del McCoury and The Punch Brothers making appearances, it's impossible to deny what this album really is.  The guests (who also include Miranda Lambert, Jamey Johnson and Kris Kristofferson) don't feel like they were inserted to bolster sales, either; rather, their appearances are very organic, akin to what Vince Gill did on his These Days box set project a few years back.

U2 fans will be surprised to hear Bentley's arrangement of their "Pride (In the Name of Love)," as Kristofferson fans will be by "Bottle to the Bottom" (which includes a vocal appearance by the song's originator).  Talk about taking a song and making it your own!  I was less taken by "Bottle" simply because the up-tempo arrangement runs too counter to the forlorn nature of the lyrics--but that may just be because I'm more familiar with Kristofferson's original version.  Otherwise, the traditional/public domain "Rovin' Gambler" stands out as a story song following a gambler from a bad run of luck to prison for murdering a cheater.  It's been covered countless times before, and Bentley's run through it with The Punch Brothers calls to mind equal parts Bill Monroe and Marty Robbins.

I used to like to evaluate whether an album could be "background" noise, and Up on the Ridge can be that...but it's a work of art and ought to be listened to and not just heard.  You don't even need a friend around; Bentley's provided enough in the creation process that you're really just crashing his jam session by putting on the album.

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