Dierks Bentley – “Up On The Ridge”

Sam Gazdziak | April 27th, 2010

dierks-bently-up-on-the-ridge

The initial plans were for Dierks Bentley to release two albums this year, one country and one bluegrass. Somewhere along the way, the two albums merged into one, creating either a chocolate-and-peanut butter delicious combination or an oil-and-water affair that won’t please anyone.

“Up On The Ridge,” the title track from that upcoming album, puts the emphasis on the banjo and Dobro–particularly in the extended instrumental break at the end of the song that will probably (and unfortunately) become a radio edit casualty. The traditional bluegrass touches coexist nicely with the more country elements like drums and distorted background vocals (by Alison Krauss, apparently recorded from the bottom of a well).

The song sounds great by itself, and if this is a fair representation of Bentley’s and producer Jon Randall’s vision, the whole album should be a sonic treat. Now, imagine this tune plugged into a radio playlist between a Lady Antebellum pop-country number and some Blake Shelton chest-thumper. There’s such an obvious difference that “Up On The Ridge” achieves the relatively rare feat of standing out from all the other songs with heavy airplay, at least from a musical standpoint.

The talented musicians and the creative production help to make up for the fact that thematically, it’s as safe a song as you can get. There’s nothing here that you haven’t already heard from Justin Moore, Jason Aldean or Easton Corbin, as far as extolling the glories of country romance. Bentley gives a spry and sly vocal performance as he races through the lyrics, making the end result a more generic but entertaining companion piece to “What Was I Thinking.”

“Up On The Ridge” may not be radio’s cup of tea, as many new country music fans don’t necessarily want their country music to sound so country. Yes, it coasts by on style over substance, but if the song is nothing else, it’s interesting. Right now, country music could stand to be more interesting.

Thumbs Up

  1. Jon
    April 27, 2010 at 7:37 am

    What is up with using “safe” as a criticism of country songs?

  2. Jon
    April 27, 2010 at 7:42 am

    And by the way, that’s not a dobro, that’s Sam Bush playing some slide mandolin in the “extended instrumental break at the end.”

  3. Stormy
    April 27, 2010 at 7:42 am

    Safe is a common criticism of songs, albums and singers.

  4. Drew
    April 27, 2010 at 8:14 am

    I’m a big Dierks fan, seen him in concert twice and have every album. But I can safely say that this song is crap.

  5. Jon
    April 27, 2010 at 8:17 am

    Safe is a common criticism of songs, albums and singers.

    Not when it comes to country music, it isn’t – at least, not among those who understand and respect the genre’s history, traditions and aesthetics. Taking risks can sometime be a good thing in country music, but not taking risks is never a bad one in and of itself. If you don’t get that, then in at least one exceedingly important way, you just don’t get country.

  6. Bobby P.
    April 27, 2010 at 8:57 am

    Some artists are less likely to take risks in the first place. Look at Don Williams: about half his stuff was “oh, I love you so much my little lovey dovey” or “I’m the most humble, clean-cut country boy you’ll ever see” but most of it wasn’t *bad*. And when he did take a chance, it was actually some pretty interesting stuff despite still being in-character: “Tulsa Time” or “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend,” to name two. It would be outside his musical persona to do, say, a power ballad or a chest-beating, Bocephus-esque anthem. He was just “safe” by nature, kind of like that era’s Josh Turner in that regard.

    Dierks, on the other hand, launched his career with a very risky song that sounded like absolutely nothing else on radio, and with a couple exceptions (“How Am I Doin'” for one) he hasn’t taken any real risks since. I still think that “Settle for a Slowdown” is one of the flattest melodies I’ve ever heard, and even then, “Every Mile a Memory” sounded like a near-doppelgänger of it. “Sideways” also shared more than a tiny bit of its melody with “Feel That Fire” (which at least was a somewhat interesting melody). “I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes” was similarly a lifeless clone of “Come a Little Closer.”

    There’s nothing wrong with being “safe” if that’s just who you are. And in my opinion, Dierks’ image doesn’t seem to be “safe.”

  7. Sam G.
    April 27, 2010 at 9:19 am

    Thanks for the clarification on the instruments, Jon.

    “Safe” is used here, and I think pretty clearly, to indicate the fact that it’s basically another “country living is great” song, and there’s been a glut of them as of late. Not that every song needs to be groundbreaking, but I think that particular theme needs a bit of a rest.

    When you’re saying that not taking a risk is never a bad thing (aka playing it safe is a good thing, eliminating the double negative), are you referring to that from an artistic or commercial standpoint?

  8. Stormy
    April 27, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Jon: This album is supposed to be a risk taking venture.

  9. Jon
    April 27, 2010 at 9:56 am

    When you’re saying that not taking a risk is never a bad thing (aka playing it safe is a good thing, eliminating the double negative), are you referring to that from an artistic or commercial standpoint?

    Had I wanted to say that playing it safe is a good thing, I would have said so; instead, I said that playing it safe (a slightly loaded way of putting it, by the way) is never a bad thing in and of itself, which is not the same thing. In eliminating the double negative, you’ve altered the meaning of my statement. And while I don’t agree with the assumption underlying your question – I don’t think that artistic and commercial considerations are mutually exclusive – I’ll say that I was thinking primarily in artistic terms.

    @stormy “Supposed to be?” Who’s doing the supposing there?

  10. Noeller
    April 27, 2010 at 10:06 am

    We were about 3 bars into this song when we knew that we owed it to our listeners to add this song into heavy rotation. Lyrically, it’s not plowing any new ground, but sonically, this is SUCH a treat because it is so different from just about everything on country radio. Between this, ZBB’s “Free”, and Miranda’s “House That Built Me”, I’m almost scared to say that we’re really making some headway as far as having quality music on the radio (!!!!!)

    I’m not sure what country radio is doing south of the border, but this song is definitely gaining traction up north.

  11. Marci
    April 27, 2010 at 10:20 am

    I love it!!! I have so much respect for Dierks and his music. It’s great to see him follow his heart and do what inspires him. I really like the “blue-grassy” feel yet he has done it in perfect Dierks Bentley style. Brilliant!!!

  12. Rick
    April 27, 2010 at 11:23 am

    I’ve been waiting for Dierks to release another bluegrassy/pure country gem like his indie debut “Don’t Leave Me In Love” and was hoping the proposed “bluegrass” album was going to be it. If this single is indicative of the overall sound of the new “amalgamation” album, I’ll still be waiting likely until he is no longer with a major label.

    This is a nice song and because Dierks is so popular with Top 40 radio listeners it should do well on the charts in spite of its “countriness”. Major mainstream country stars can slip ringers to radio now and then, whereas new artists with a traditional sound are more likely to hit a brick wall (with notable new exceptions like Easton Corbin and Chris Young). I hope songs like this will turn radio back towards a more tradition oriented country sound, but that’s a pipe dream in today’s Top 40 marketplace.

    PS to Jon – I’ve never ever heard of anyone playing “slide mandolin” previous to your comment. Hmm…

  13. nm
    April 27, 2010 at 11:37 am

    that’s Sam Bush playing some slide mandolin in the “extended instrumental break at the end.”

    So that’s what that is. I was wondering. It sounds fantastic.

  14. Stormy
    April 27, 2010 at 11:41 am

    @stormy “Supposed to be?” Who’s doing the supposing there?

    Whoever is advertising the album, so presumably his label.

  15. bev
    April 27, 2010 at 11:49 am

    what is this? i listen to COUNTRY music because i like COUNTRY music. if i wanted to listen to bluegrass i would listen to bluegrass!!!!

    i think this cd should stay on the bluegrass side and out of the country music that we want to hear.

  16. kaylyn
    April 27, 2010 at 11:54 am

    I’ve seen and met dierks bentley in person and seen himlive in concert and I got to say that dierks bentley has great country songs that makes every girl that wears white tank tops to every dierks bentley concert including me falls in love with his singing voice. By the way I am going to see dierks bentley live in concert on june 18, 2010.

    ps. I can’t wait for tonight show with jay leno to come on because I want to hear dierks bentley’s new song called up on the ridge.I think that dierks bentley’s bluegrass album will be great because bluegrass music is what got dierks bentley into country music in the first place. When dierks bentley releases his new bluegrass album on june 8,2010 I will go to the store and buy it because I am super in love with my music hero dierks bentley.

  17. Ben Foster
    April 27, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    “Up On the Ridge” was a disappointment to me – too similar to Dierks’ previous hits. It did not live up to the hype at all. I will soon be posting my less-positive review of this song on 1to10countryreview.blogspot.com.

  18. Leeann Ward
    April 27, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    While I’m not defending this song quite yet, I really don’t hear how it sounds too much like his other songs. It’s definitely different to me.

  19. Jon
    April 27, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    @stormy Up On The Ridge is not being advertised as “a risk taking venture” on this planet, except insofar as a bluegrass-y album by a mainstream country artist is always a bit risky. And that’s not what Sam is talking about.

  20. Janelle
    April 27, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    I’m liking the title track! I like that its different that the pop music on my country radio stations! I’m excited to hear more of the album. Really anxious to hear the duet with Miranda and Jamey Johnson – talk about some real country sound there!

  21. Mayor JoBob
    April 27, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    If the two albums merged into one I hope the new album has twice as many songs as a normal one would. Not just the standard 12.

  22. Stormy
    April 27, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    Jon: Its being touted as a merging of a bluegrass and a country album. Its reasonable to expect risks.

  23. Brady Vercher
    April 27, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    Brandon Rickman, Alecia Nugent, Randy Kohrs, and NewFound Road have all put out good albums recently that could be considered a blend in one form or another. What exactly is risky about it?

  24. Noeller
    April 27, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    I think it’s risky for any successful “mainstream” act to release music that doesn’t really sound anything like their previous material. I really feel like “Up On The Ridge”, as a single, is a big difference from previous successful DB material, like the crappy “Sideways”, and making that big a diversion has to be considered risky.

    Just sayin’…

  25. Rick
    April 27, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    Brady, none of those artists you’ve listed are established big name Top 40 mainstream country acts like Dierks is, so the comparison is apples vs. oranges. Its “risky” for an established mainstream artist to release a radio single that is quite different from his previous singles and the sound of other songs on Top 40 country radio. There is a risk the radio stations won’t play it and/or it will stall out the artist’s career momentum. I don’t think this new single is “radical” enough for there to be a risk of either possible event happening.

  26. WAYNOE
    April 27, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    It’s good to see the “thumbs” back.

  27. Brady Vercher
    April 27, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    The commercial implications are understood, but it’s the insinuation that there’s some sort of inherent artistic risk in melding bluegrass and country that I don’t understand.

  28. Stormy
    April 27, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    For a commerical artist like Dierks, its not safe.

  29. Jon
    April 28, 2010 at 7:41 am

    For a commerical artist like Dierks, its not safe.

    So, um, Stormy, you started out suggesting that this project is only “touted” and “advertised” as being risky, and now you’re suggesting that it genuinely is? What is your point exactly?

    The review didn’t argue that it wasn’t risky to put a strongly bluegrass flavored single out to country radio; in fact, it implied the opposite by noting how different it sounds from country radio’s regular fare these days (though ironically, the risk comes from “playing it safe” in a long-view musical sense, as it’s pretty squarely in line with country tradition). That’s the apparent basis for the thumbs-up. But Sam did criticize the song for being “thematically” safe, and my point is that when it comes to country music (as opposed to, say, punk rock), that’s poor grounds for criticism.

  30. Stormy
    April 28, 2010 at 7:47 am

    Jon: No, I am saying that IF the project is what it is touted to be then it should, in theory, be risky. However, the song points away from that theory that by being incredibly safe.

  31. Jon
    April 28, 2010 at 9:24 am

    Jon: No, I am saying that IF the project is what it is touted to be then it should, in theory, be risky. However, the song points away from that theory that by being incredibly safe.

    So when Sam writes that the song blends bluegrass and country and thereby sounds different from what’s on country radio, you disagree? Do you think it’s a straightahead bluegrass cut or a pure mainstream country one?

  32. Jon
    April 28, 2010 at 10:35 am

    “Up On The Ridge” on Leno last night: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZFwWvratvw .

  33. Sam G
    April 28, 2010 at 10:37 am

    But Sam did criticize the song for being “thematically” safe, and my point is that when it comes to country music (as opposed to, say, punk rock), that’s poor grounds for criticism.

    I know that people being proud of their roots is a theme that stretches way back in country music, but we’ve had at least a dozen of those similar-sounding singles come out in the last year or so. Yes, radio keeps playing them, so I understand why they keep getting released, but we’re past the saturation point by now. So in my opinion “more of the same” is a valid criticism.

  34. Jon
    April 28, 2010 at 10:44 am

    But it’s clearly not “more of the same” except in subject matter, right? And your argument seems to be that before writing or choosing songs, artists should inspect the market place and write or choose according to what’s prevalent? Isn’t that just the flip side of the copycat mentality? Isn’t it still advocating that acts tailor what they write and record to the market – only in reverse?

  35. Stormy
    April 28, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Jon: It has a few Bluegrass flouishes, but does not belnd country and bluegrass with nearly as much edge as White Liar.

  36. Sam G
    April 28, 2010 at 11:40 am

    But it’s clearly not “more of the same” except in subject matter, right?

    The subject matter was the whole point of my criticism, so, yes.

    And your argument seems to be that before writing or choosing songs, artists should inspect the market place and write or choose according to what’s prevalent?

    That isn’t happening already? All those songwriters decided independently over the course of a year or two that they needed to write a rural pride song, and all those singers decided to record those songs without acknowledging that similar songs have been hits for other artists?

    Isn’t it still advocating that acts tailor what they write and record to the market – only in reverse?

    I would call that “trying something different.” That’s not always a good thing artistically or commercially, of course. If Dierks did a modern-day murder ballad, radio probably wouldn’t touch it.

    I think it’s fair to address in a review if a song is thematically similar to a number of recent songs (or, in the case of Karlie’s Alan Jackson review, if the singer has recorded very similar songs in the past). That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad song, but it could become a factor in the overall judgment.

  37. Jaime
    April 28, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    Risky or not, great song. :)

  38. Ashley
    April 28, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    I attended the CD listening party a couple of weeks ago with Randy Kohrs who, incidentally, played resonator guitar on the project but not on the reviewed title track, and I believe the CD went exactly where Jon Randall and Dierks intended it to go – far enough to the edge to incite debate (point proved already) but not so far that he alienates the entire country audience he’s built (can’t please them all). Of course that’s going to be a calculated move – this is the music business (emphasis on business)! Hopefully, this move can be one, though, that proves high selling numbers and genre-blending labors of love, which I firmly believe this is, are not mutually exclusive. Having been involved with more of the latter, with even the same genres involved, I’d love to see the two merge!

    That being said, my favorite song of the whole project is “Bad Angel” featuring Miranda Lambert, whose vocal performance rivals that of any on her own CD’s, which I mean as a wholehearted complement. Also, the blend of Jon Randall’s and Sonya Isaacs’ harmony vocals sound absolutely amazing on another track. Nothing is hardcore bluegrass, and I consider that a huge plus as that typically means, by the standards of hardcore bluegrassers, he would have recorded “Blue Ridge Cabin Home” for the 15,000th time. Overall, I truly enjoyed the whole CD and hope it breaks some ground for new artists, gives some innovative courage to those who are already established, and shows country radio that pop country isn’t the only way to go.

  39. Jon
    April 28, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Well, then, Sam, we’re back to the point that novelty for its own sake (“I would call that ‘trying something different'”) is not something that has much value in or much of a place in the history of country music. Treading the same well-worn paths of subject matter that other artists are traveling at the same time is pretty much a given in country music, and what often counts – and what you’ve conspicuously avoided addressing – are the actualities of the particular performance and the response it engenders from listeners.

    Furthermore, if the issue is about artists doing what they want to do artistically, then going out of your way to avoid doing what others are doing is no different than going out of your way to follow what others are doing. And if it’s not about artists doing what they want to do artistically, but rather what works for them commercially, then why would they want to defy expectations?

    In this case, though, as my friend Ashley (who knows) says, it’s pretty clear that this album was a labor of love. If there’s a “country pride” song (and what a reductionist characterization that is) on there, it’s because Dierks wanted to write the song that he wrote and record it the way he wanted to record it. The belief that you can read an artist’s creativity, purpose and integrity by how closely the music matches your idea of what it ought to be is an unfounded one.

    @Stormy I’m torn between wanting to point out that dragging another record into the discussion is pure distraction and wanting to know what you think you’re hearing in Miranda Lambert’s “White Liar” that makes it more of a blend of bluegrass and country than “Up On The Ridge.” I can’t imagine what that would be, but on the other hand, it really has nothing to do with the confused, self-contradictory views you’ve expressed so far about “Up On The Ridge.”

  40. Brady Vercher
    April 29, 2010 at 12:04 am

    I’ve listened to the album a few times through and gotta say, it’s pretty dang good!

  41. Leeann Ward
    April 29, 2010 at 12:14 am

    Good to hear, Brady.

    I’m also confused by the Lambert comparison, since I don’t recall hearing anything bluegrass-y in that song. Dierks for the win on that score.

  42. Stormy
    April 29, 2010 at 7:38 am

    Jon: What has benn self-contradictory about me arguement?

  43. Jon
    April 29, 2010 at 7:53 am

    You don’t see anything self-contradictory about saying that an album is risky and that it’s (not just “safe” but) “incredibly safe” at the same time?

  44. Stormy
    April 29, 2010 at 9:33 am

    I see where you are confused.

    You don’t see anything self-contradictory about saying that an album is risky and that it’s (not just “safe” but) “incredibly safe” at the same time?

    Just look at the statement and take out all of the things I did not actually say.

  45. Jon
    April 29, 2010 at 10:06 am

    @Stormy, you said that blending country and bluegrass is risky for a commercial artist like Dierks Bentley, and you said that “Up On The Ridge” blends bluegrass and country. Sure, you said it in a begrudging way (“it has a few Bluegrass flourishes”), and you tried to draw attention away from it with the bogus Miranda Lambert reference, but at the end of the day the meaning was pretty clear – it blends bluegrass and country, which according to your other statement is risky for Bentley. Yet you also claim it’s “incredibly safe.” That’s self-contradictory.

    By the way, and apropos of Sam’s discussion of the difference between the way “Up On The Ridge” and most of mainstream country radio favorites today sound, it was entertaining to go back and read Jim Malec’s review of “White Liar,” which confidently concluded that:

    “Country radio isn’t going to come within 100 feet of this…“White Liar” positions Lambert well outside of the comfortable confines, so far removed from the bombastic, hook-pounding songs the format favors that she has to no know there’s no place for it….She has to know that this can’t be played after ‘She’s Country.'”

    It’s odd the way that folks from both the “left” and “right” (so to speak) agree that a variety of country sounds can’t successfully be programmed for mainstream audiences, when the evidence usually suggests otherwise.

    @Brady, I agree. For more or less selfish reasons, I’d have liked to have heard a somewhat different kind of album, but the one that he actually made is pretty dang good.

  46. Stormy
    April 29, 2010 at 10:12 am

    How did you read “blends bluegrass and country” into “it has a few florishes?”

  47. Jon
    April 29, 2010 at 10:19 am

    It comes with understanding the English language, Stormy. Besides, you claimed that Miranda Lambert’s “White Liar” blends bluegrass and country, and “Up On The Ridge” has at least as many bluegrass attributes as “White Liar.”

  48. Stormy
    April 29, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Now that I did not say and I do not agree with.

  49. Jon
    April 29, 2010 at 11:57 am

    You don’t agree that “White Liar” blends bluegrass and country? That’s good, because it doesn’t. But “Up On The Ridge” certainly does.

  50. Stormy
    April 29, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    I do not agree that “Up On The Ridge” has at least as many bluegrass attributes as “White Liar.”

  51. Jon
    April 29, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    I think it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re more or less alone in holding that opinion. Certainly anyone who holds that opinion can be safely said to be less than familiar with bluegrass.

  52. Leeann Ward
    April 29, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Stormy,
    I understand why Jon’s interpreting your comment as he is. Above you said (a direct quote):

    ” Jon: It has a few Bluegrass flouishes, but does not belnd country and bluegrass with nearly as much edge as White Liar.”

    If you’re not suggesting that “White Liar” blends country and bluegrass, color me confused, because I have no idea what you’re saying there then.

  53. Jon
    April 29, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    Furthermore, if “White Liar” were, as you contend, a blend of bluegrass and country, then it would clearly not be risky for a commercial artist like Dierks to release such a blend, for “White Liar” performed quite well at country radio. This is but another angle that you’ve confused in your presentation.

  54. Stormy
    April 29, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    White Liar does BLEND bluegrass and country. Up on the Ridge has a few florishes–like spinkles on a cupcake. The sprinkles aren’t “blended” with the cupcake.

  55. Stewman
    April 29, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    Caught this on Leno last night. It never really ignited. Dierks seemed nervous, slightly out of his element. Didn’t seem comfortable with the pace of the song. I presume he’ll work out the kinks in the next few weeks.

  56. Jon
    April 29, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    And there you have it.

  57. Razor X
    April 29, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    This entire conversation is making my head spin.

  58. merlefan49
    April 29, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    The song is okay but IMO it’s hardly bluegrass it sounds more like a mainstream country song.

  59. Razor X
    April 29, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    It’s not meant to be hardcore bluegrass. That being said, I’m disappointed in it. I thought it would be something that I would really like. It’s not horrible but it’s not something that I would buy.

  60. Leeann Ward
    April 29, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    I like it better than I initially did, but I’m hoping I’ll like the rest of the album a lot better. I bought the download from Amazon, because I just couldn’t get a real feel for the song from the low quality All Access link.

  61. merlefan49
    April 29, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    Razor x
    Glad to hear it is being promoted as hard core bluegrass.
    The sad thing is it is being called “Bluegrass” by a blogger at cmt.

  62. Razor X
    April 29, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    I bought the download from Amazon, because I just couldn’t get a real feel for the song from the low quality All Access link.

    All I could find was a low-quality You Tube file, and I had the same thought; it’s a little hard to judge the song when the fidelity is so poor. But when I listened to it a second time, I think what I really don’t like about it is his singing. I’ve always been a bit lukewarm about Dierks. Maybe I’ll like the rest of the album better.

  63. Leeann Ward
    April 30, 2010 at 7:05 am

    I’ve always liked Deirks’ voice, but there seems to be something rave-esque about the chorus of the song. He doesn’t really seem to be into it, but I think that’s on purpose.

  64. Erich
    June 1, 2010 at 12:05 am

    I love “up on the ridge”! And if you dont like it get off the ridge lol

  65. Jon
    June 7, 2010 at 11:42 am

    Nice clip of Dierks, Ronnie McCoury, Alan Bartram, Jason Carter (all of the Del McCoury Band/Travelin’ McCourys) and Noam Pikelny (Punch Brothers) on this morning’s Imus show here: http://bit.ly/9yPGL9 .

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