Album Review: Dierks Bentley – Up On the Ridge

Blake Boldt | June 29th, 2010

Dierks Bentley - Up On the RidgeDierks Bentley, Music Row’s curly-haired Romeo, debuted in 2003 with “What Was I Thinkin’,” a sprightly tale of backwoods wooing that proved he could make state-of-the-art Nashville country while staying in touch with the genre’s roots. Since then, he’s married a neat pop sensibility to more-traditional themes to become one of radio’s most successful singers. Hordes of hot-blooded women swoon with his romantic ballads, while his country boy anthems strike the right chord for male listeners who are chasing those women.

After stalling both creatively and commercially on last year’s Feel That Fire, Bentley gets a little scrappy on his fifth studio album, Up on the Ridge, a minor artistic detour that chucks his clean mainstream grooves for a largely-acoustic background. These songs explore the darker side of life–death, late-night drinking and spoiled love affair—and Jon Randall Stewart chimes in with crisp, vibrant arrangements that uncover new levels of Bentley’s talent.

For Bentley, this is no handsome facade. A voracious student of old-school country and bluegrass, he’s often professed his devotion to the history of the genre. Ridge boasts an all-star roster that furthers Bentley’s reputation as one of country’s great young hopes. The ethereal harmonies of Alison Krauss lend a mysterious air to the album’s title cut, while a pair of modern country’s brightest lights, Jamey Johnson and Miranda Lambert, guest on the gritty “Bad Angel,” which finds him toeing the fine line between sin and salvation.

Though he’s surrounded by a wealth of talent, Bentley helms the proceedings with a keen sense of his abilities. The best track is “Rovin’ Gambler,” an energetic rave-up with a cameo by the Punch Brothers, while the blistering “You’re Dead to Me” tells of a soured lover who’s through with giving second chances. “I gave a heartfelt eulogy,” he says to a sorry ex, “I said goodbye, you’re dead to me.”

Not everything works as well. His cover of U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love),” accented by Del McCoury’s plaintive wail, draws unfavorable comparisons to Bono’s soaring original, and Bob Dylan’s “Senor (Tales of Yankee Powers)” feels out of place on a prog-bluegrass album. Much better is a remake of Kris Kristofferson’s “Bottle to the Bottom,” a sharp bit of writing from the Hall of Famer that doubles for a commentary on Bentley’s new venture in Nashville’s risk-averse culture: “You wonder if I’m better off/With freedom now to do the things I choose.”

The album closes with the chilling “Down in the Mine,” a Bentley-Randall co-write that fits nicely in the genre’s canon of coal-mining songs. It’s this fidelity to honest, no-frills country music that makes Ridge a watershed moment in the career of an ever-evolving singer-songwriter.

3.5 Stars

  1. Noeller
    June 29, 2010 at 9:21 am

    I absolutely can’t WAIT to listen to this project. Gotta pick a copy up this weekend!!

  2. Brady Vercher
    June 29, 2010 at 9:56 am

    I’m not familiar with any of U2’s material and the lyrics don’t do much for me on “Pride (In the Name of Love),” but there’s not much better than Del McCoury’s singing on that track. I can’t get enough. The pickin’ is pretty sweet, too.

  3. Stewman
    June 29, 2010 at 10:13 am

    I know this is a country board, but is it possible to not be familiar with any of U2’s material?

  4. Razor X
    June 29, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Yes, Stewman, it is.

  5. Noeller
    June 29, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Yeah, not to drive the thread too far off point, but “the Joshua Tree” is probably in the Top 5 (10?) albums of all time, any genre. “Where The Streets Have No Name” and “With Or Without You” are two of the greatest songs ever written, period. Hard to imagine anyone not being at least moderately familiar with some of that.

  6. Leeann Ward
    June 29, 2010 at 10:26 am

    I don’t think “Pride” works very well, but I do like “Senor” qquite a bit.

  7. Paul W Dennis
    June 29, 2010 at 10:42 am

    U who ??

  8. WAYNOE
    June 29, 2010 at 10:43 am

    Noeller,

    While I agree in principal, you may want to ask the current reviewer of the Garth Brooks albums on this website why he wasn’t much aware of his works until two decades later.

    To quote, “Editor’s Note: In Rediscovering Garth Brooks, former punk rock die-hard and The 9513 contributing writer Stephen M. Deusner documents the experience of hearing the seminal country icon for the first time–more than two decades after the singer’s debut.”

    I find that more amazing than someone not being really familiar with U2 – don’t U.

  9. Stephanie
    June 29, 2010 at 10:48 am

    I really enjoy this album as a whole. While I agree that Pride doesn’t work very well, like Leeann I also enjoy Senor. My favorite tracks are Bad Angel and Fiddlin’ Around. Nice work Dierks!!

  10. Drew
    June 29, 2010 at 11:14 am

    Not a big fan of this review. My favorite track, “Draw Me A Map”, wasn’t even mentioned, and I completely disagree that “Rovin’ Gambler”, “Bottle To The Bottom”, and “You’re Dead To Me” are among the best tracks. I’d actually say they’re among my least favorite. I thought “In The Name Of Love” was strong too, especially McCoury’s high wail which is just pure bluegrass.

  11. Stewman
    June 29, 2010 at 11:30 am

    WAYNOE,
    Despite all of Brooks’ success, he never had the worldwide cultural impact that U2 has had. It would be hard to find 5-7 musical acts that are bigger all time than U2. It was a lot harder to find CMT than MTV/VH1 when both of these acts were at their prime. Im from the northeast, so it could be a geographical bias, but i still find it hard to believe.

  12. Barry Mazor
    June 29, 2010 at 11:38 am

    I’m not alone in finding “Pride’ the most memorable turn and track on the record. And I’ve seen it performed by Dierks and Del live, and the crowd went nuts.

  13. Leeann Ward
    June 29, 2010 at 11:42 am

    I agree that “Draw Me A Map” is among the best, but I also think that “Bottle to the Bottom,” “Rovin’ Gambler”, “Down in the Mine” “Fiddlin’ Around”, “You’re Dead to Me” and “Senor” are the best on the album. McCoury’s vocals are certainly excellent, but I just ddon’t think the song as a whole worked well compared to the original; it sounded like a stretch. I was also disappointed by “Bad Angel”, the song with Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson. It sounded somewhat disjointed to me and I don’t think that all that great talent was fully utilized. At any rate, the Punch Brothers were certainly a highlight of the project.

  14. Leeann Ward
    June 29, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Maybe some of my problem with “Pride” is that I’m not super fond of the original, though I like it better than this version.

  15. Jon
    June 29, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    I tell you what, I’ve heard of U2 a lot more than I’ve heard U2, and in fact, what I know of their songs has mostly come through bluegrass covers by Dale Ann Bradley, Jeremy Garrett, the Infamous Stringdusters and now Bentley. Nice to see that rock chauvinism – dude, everybody knows all the big rock acts, because it’s, like, the biggest most badass music ever – is still alive and well, though. Not.

    And while I am always glad to hear Punch Brothers, and glad that Bentley chose to put one ironclad bluegrass classic on the album (by the way, has any sprung for the deluxe edition of Antifogmatic with DVD? there was some talk of putting another classic or two on there), I wish they hadn’t taken the song so dang fast. By way of contrast, check out this classic version: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001CD8D0S/ref=dm_mu_dp_trk10 or this one: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003TZEL1C/ref=dm_mu_dp_trk4 .

    But that’s a pretty minor complaint. All in all, it’s a mighty fine album, and I hope that it not only does well on its own, but encourages some new listeners to check out Bentley’s collaborators and their own work.

  16. Stewman
    June 29, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    Dude, Jon you’re like way off base man. I have to think its this anti-rock “Ill never listen no matter what” thing you have. And you’re first sentence is very vague. My point was have you heard their music. Youre response was yes, so thank you.

  17. Stewman
    June 29, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    And if so many bluegrass bands are covering U2, what does that say about their music and or Bluegrass music in general?

  18. Jon
    June 29, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Dude, I already knew they were a popular band; it’s not surprising that their songs would be covered by some bluegrass artists. I bought an album of theirs 20-some-odd years ago to see what all the noise was about. Not my cup of tea, so I let it go. Don’t go out of my way to avoid their music – or anyone else’s, really – but the fact is that you can live a long time without ever getting much exposure to it, or to anyone else’s. But it’s only the rock-ists who feel compelled to proclaim their favored genre’s universality.

  19. Razor X
    June 29, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Despite all of Brooks’ success, he never had the worldwide cultural impact that U2 has had. It would be hard to find 5-7 musical acts that are bigger all time than U2. It was a lot harder to find CMT than MTV/VH1 when both of these acts were at their prime. Im from the northeast, so it could be a geographical bias, but i still find it hard to believe.

    I’m from the northeast as well. I’ve never been interested in U2 and never followed their music. I didn’t even know that “Pride” was a U2 cover until I read it in one of the online reviews. Radio formats are so fragmented these days, and there are so many choices, it’s pretty easy to ignore music that you’re not interested in. I’m not sure why you find that so difficult to believe.

  20. WAYNOE
    June 29, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    Stewman,

    Have you looked at his album sales? Hardly regional but I understand your point and agree in principal.

  21. Stewman
    June 29, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    WAYNOE, I agree. Brooks is the top 2-3 selling artist of all time. Even before I was fully immersed in country music (or somewhat immersed), i certainly knew of him and was familiar with his bigger hits. That was my bigger point that I don’t expect people to be fans or like the music of U2 (I dont really listen anymore), but I would think by osmosis from 83-92, you actually couldnt avoid their music and all of the hoopla, magazine covers etc.. If someone is under 30, i could probably understand not having seen them at their zenith.

  22. WAYNOE
    June 29, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    They were international and arena rock that’s for sure.

  23. Drew
    June 29, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    I didn’t know it was a U2 cover either. I couldn’t name you more than two of U2’s songs, so I don’t think they’re this huge iconic band some ppl think.

    I thought “Bad Angel” was a bit of a letdown too. It’s not a bad song, but I expected better.

    “Down In The Mine” deserves more praise, it’s really a great song. In the mold of the famous “Dark As A Dungeon”, as Razor noted in his review over on My Kind of Country.

  24. Kelly
    June 29, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    Drew – If a globally adored band with the reputation and catalog of U2 isnt an “iconic” act, then I’m not sure if such a thing exists. And, perhaps it doesnt in the broad sense, anymore. It’s not hard to imagine a rock fan that loves U2 might not be into country, or even familiar with Brooks. Same goes for the other way around.

    If “iconic” is to mean that people from all walks of life, regardless of individual musical tastes, are familiar with the work of the act being considered, then there isnt such a thing as an “iconic band” after all. That act doesnt exist in this day and time.

  25. Leeann Ward
    June 29, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    I’ts hard for me to judge U2’s impact, since I’m pretty aware of them. I think they’re pretty iconic at this point, but it’s not a stretch for me to understand that people have heard their name without knowing any of their songs. It depends on what one is exposed to or exposes oneself to, really.

  26. Jon
    June 29, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    it’s not a stretch for me to understand that people have heard their name without knowing any of their songs.

    Well, exactly. Though Stewman seems to think that seeing an act on a magazine cover is the same thing as hearing its music, he’s wrong; they’re actually two different things.

  27. Brady Vercher
    June 29, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Heh, I didn’t think my comment would figure so prominently. I know who U2 is and I know that their music doesn’t interest me enough to delve into it, so why exactly should I be familiar with their songs?

  28. nm
    June 29, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    it’s not a stretch for me to understand that people have heard their name without knowing any of their songs

    Or, maybe, having heard their name and even some of their songs without knowing the names of the songs. I’ve heard the original version of “Pride (In the Name of Love)” on a bunch of radio stations a bunch of times, but if I ever knew that “Pride” was a part of the song title I had forgotten it. And, to tell the truth, I wouldn’t remember it now if I hadn’t been so surprised when I found out.

  29. Jon
    June 29, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Well, Del had never heard the song, and he was a little sketchy on the band, too – “that band, I think they’re from Ireland” was how he ID’d them to me when he told me he’d been in to do the track.

  30. Stewman
    June 29, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    I could believe that. Del is 70+ which probably doesnt put him in the U2 demo. but I would think Ronnie would definitively know. Would be interested to get his feedback. Thanks Jon

  31. Chris N.
    June 29, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    My only problem with “Pride (In the Name of Love)” remains the one I’ve had for 26 years: Martin Luther King was killed in the evening, not the morning.

  32. Jon
    June 29, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    That’s not much of a problem, I hope.

  33. Chris N.
    June 29, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    Nah, not really.

  34. luckyoldsun
    June 29, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Chris N.–
    No reason to back down–You’re right. MLK was killed at around 6 pm. If a songwriter is going to make an explicit reference to that event, he shouldn’t say it happened in early morning.

    Next thing, Bonehead will write that Abraham Lincoln was shot while watching a movie.

  35. Rick
    June 29, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    If Dierks wasn’t already an established mainstream country star and this album was his debut effort, I doubt if “Up On The Ridge” would make a ripple in either the mainstream country or bluegrass sales charts. A more appropriate title under those circumstances would have been “Down In The Bargain Bin”…

  36. Razor X
    June 29, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Rick, do you like anybody?

  37. Leeann Ward
    June 29, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Razor X, sure he does, as long as they’re pretty in his perverted eyes.

  38. Steve Harvey
    July 11, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    Razor, I don’t think Dierks has big enough tits for Rick.

  39. Regina George
    August 31, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    I’m kind addicted to this CD. I give Dierks mad props for changing it up and doing something that he wanted. I srsly hope he releases some of the great bluegrassy songs. It could really help the already-in-motion back peddling of the country sound thats hitting the radio thanks to people like Gloriana. The subtleness of a mando changes the whole sound.
    “Bad Angel,” is awesome. so well written, such a good combo between Lambert, Johnson and Bentley. I really. really. reallly. hope it’s released. I would love to at least watch the reaction. Lambert’s career is going crazy, so that might just shoot it to number 1.
    I love “Senor,” the nickelcreek guy is awesome. love his voice mixed with dierks. the song is catchy and upbeat and totally folk.
    I hate. hate. hated. “Up on the ridge,” I think it’s a good name for the album but thats about it. The song is lame and forced and he even brings up his dog, jake. I thought it was just stupid.
    The rest of the CD.. basically awesome. I really thought Dierks was going to sell out and make it kind of pop-country to appeal. I was def proved wrong. go Dierks!

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