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Dierks Bentley - Up on the Ridge


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#1 Josh Hurst

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Posted 03 May 2010 - 08:20 AM

I don't think I've ever heard a Dierks Bentley song that I particularly enjoyed, but his upcoming album sure sounds interesting. It's a bluegrass album, and it features guest performances from folks like Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Chris Thile, and Jamey Johnson.

But more to the point: It includes covers of songs by Bob Dylan, U2, and Buddy and Julie Miller! ::w00t::

#2 Josh Hurst

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Posted 12 May 2010 - 12:58 PM

I'm reviewing this one, and-- surprise!-- I'm actually enjoying it a fair bit. What this ISN'T is a big country star making a "back to his roots" album; this isn't in any way supposed to be an authentic bluegrass album, despite the bluegrass instrumentation, but, rather, a marriage of bluegrass with contemporary country (and even a bit of rock). As such, I think it works really well; it's slick, but it makes it work.

The cover of Dylan's "Senor"-- with Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers guesting-- is really cool. There are also nice takes on songs by the Millers and Kris Kristofferson, as well as some very solid originals. The weirdest moment, naturally, is the bluegrass take on "Pride (In the Name of Love)"-- weird because, somehow, it sounds almost exactly like the original. :blink:

#3 Josh Hurst

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Posted 08 June 2010 - 07:35 AM

My review.

#4 Christian

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Posted 08 June 2010 - 10:47 AM

I've been cynical about this release. I listen to a lot of mainstream Country radio, and Bentley is a chief offender -- an example of pretty much everything that's wrong with Country radio. I don't hate his stuff -- I wish I were that passionate about it. It's just such pablum, so predictable, so ready-for-radio, full of stupid cliches.

When I heard about the new CD, I was suspicious. What're they gonna do, I thought: Add some Vince Gill and Alison Krauss to sucker people into thinking Bentley is suddenly an Artist of Integrity?

Turns out that's exactly what they've done, and today's Post review is exactly what I expected: a rave:

The results are dazzling -- and for a chart-topping cutie-pie, it's a supremely gutsy move. To prove he means it, he's allowed his neatly trimmed stubble to sprout into a mangy scruff.

But facial hair does not a great album make -- so Bentley mustered a gang of esteemed collaborators for what might be the best country recording we'll hear in 2010. He harmonizes with Vince Gill and Alison Krauss. He duets with Kris Kristofferson and Del McCoury. He covers Bob Dylan and U2. All without flinching.


Are the results really "dazzling"? Here's the rub: I love the bluegrass sound, but let's face it, not all bluegrass is great music. Is the material on this album truly stellar, or is critic Chris Richards just a sucker for a certain stripped-down sound? I've been that way myself, so the rat I smell is all too well known to me.

Time was -- and not too long ago -- that I would've excitedly snapped up a release like this, eager to sing the praises of a mainstream artist who'd gone "back to basics." For instance, I'm a big fan of Martina McBride's Timeless CD of Country remakes -- but I'm a big fan of all of Martina's stuff, even the sappy ballads. I can't say the same for Bentley.

Edited by Christian, 08 June 2010 - 01:22 PM.


#5 Andy Whitman

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Posted 08 June 2010 - 11:04 AM

You have reason to be cynical, Christian. This isn't a terrible album. It's pretty good for Dierks Bentley. It's just predictable in its "back to the roots" instrumentation and its "daring" song selection (U2; oooooh!). The same folks who snapped up the Plant/Krauss album (which was good, but not nearly as good as the rave reviews would suggest) will snap this one up, too. Personally, I'd save my money for the upcoming Jamey Johnson album, if I were you. This is stellar marketing and okay music.

Edited by Andy Whitman, 08 June 2010 - 11:06 AM.


#6 Josh Hurst

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Posted 08 June 2010 - 10:13 PM

... Jamey Johnson, of course, sings on this album, along with Miranda Lambert. So... that's something?

As for the question of whether the material is stellar, well, there are songs by U2, Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, and the Millers, so obviously a good chunk of it is solid. As for the originals, I think they're all quite good; any problems that one has with this album will likely have a lot more to do with the production or arrangements than the writing, I would imagine. (Correct me if I'm generalizing too much, Andy.)

As for the "daring" song selections... well, I don't think Dierks is going for the element of surprise here. The presence of a U2 song on an album like this suggest to me that he's not particularly interested in making a traditional bluegrass album OR catering to country radio-- because after all, U2 has nothing at all to do with either of those camps. This is NOT Raising Sand; it doesn't fetishize analog recording methods or seek to sound like it was recorded in the 1960s, and it is in no sense meant to be a revivalist album. To my ears, it sounds like an attempt to marry bluegrass instrumentation to modern country sensibilities. And I think that, on those terms, it works smashingly. I wouldn't call it amazing, or a masterpiece, or a five-star classic. But I think it's better than okay. And I think it's better than almost anything else coming out of Nashville these days.

#7 Darryl A. Armstrong

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Posted 08 June 2010 - 10:30 PM

I think I'm going to check this out. Maybe it's a little gimmicky, but cross-pollination is generally a good thing, I think.

That said, hasn't Bluegrass U2 already been done?

#8 Andy Whitman

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Posted 10 June 2010 - 07:38 AM

... Jamey Johnson, of course, sings on this album, along with Miranda Lambert. So... that's something?

As for the question of whether the material is stellar, well, there are songs by U2, Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, and the Millers, so obviously a good chunk of it is solid. As for the originals, I think they're all quite good; any problems that one has with this album will likely have a lot more to do with the production or arrangements than the writing, I would imagine. (Correct me if I'm generalizing too much, Andy.)

As for the "daring" song selections... well, I don't think Dierks is going for the element of surprise here. The presence of a U2 song on an album like this suggest to me that he's not particularly interested in making a traditional bluegrass album OR catering to country radio-- because after all, U2 has nothing at all to do with either of those camps. This is NOT Raising Sand; it doesn't fetishize analog recording methods or seek to sound like it was recorded in the 1960s, and it is in no sense meant to be a revivalist album. To my ears, it sounds like an attempt to marry bluegrass instrumentation to modern country sensibilities. And I think that, on those terms, it works smashingly. I wouldn't call it amazing, or a masterpiece, or a five-star classic. But I think it's better than okay. And I think it's better than almost anything else coming out of Nashville these days.

I don't dislike the album. But I view it as part of a much larger trend in country music that was kickstarted by the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack ten years ago, and therefore I balk a bit at the "innovative" accolades this album has received. It's not innovative at all. It's a shrewd marketing move that has already paid big dividends for dozens of country muscians, and Dierks is the latest in a long line of Nashville mainstays who have figured our that there's good money to be made by appealing to educated, white-collar listeners instead of Bubba and Wanda in the trailer park.

Dierks is following in the footsteps of Dolly Parton, Patty Loveless, Vince Gill, and Raul Malo/The Mavericks from the Nashville corner, and Ricky Skaggs, Tim O'Brien, Darrel Scott, and Alison Krauss from the bluegrass(y) corner. Get rid of some of the slickness, bring in some dobros and fiddles, and tart up some recognizable rock/folk songs that people with disposable income will snap up. And that's fine. I'm probably in that target audience, and I'll readily admit that I'd rather hear this stuff than the usual Nashville pablum. It's a good move from a musical standpoint because I certainly prefer rootsy rawness to Nashville slickness, and it's a good move from the standpoint of the songs for the fairly obvious reasons that Bono, Bob Dylan, and Buddy and Julie Miller write better songs than most Nashville cliche mongers, including Dierks Bentley. My only objection is to the "bold career move" tropes that I've been reading. This hasn't been bold since the folks in suits and Stetson hats figured out that millions of people would pay money to hear the old songs of The Stanley Brothers.

Edited by Andy Whitman, 10 June 2010 - 07:39 AM.


#9 Christian

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Posted 17 September 2010 - 08:12 PM

... Jamey Johnson, of course, sings on this album, along with Miranda Lambert. So... that's something?

I heard a song today on "The 5:30 File" -- a segment on the big Country station here, in which a song is played and listeners are requested to call and instruct the deejay as to whether the tune should be added to the rotation, or "recycled" -- that got my attention. Two men and a woman singing (sounded live), and the song was notably different from everything else the station plays.

Turned out it was ... Dierks Bentley! With Jamey Johnson and Miranda Lambert.

I flipped to another Country station a few minutes later and heard some tasteful instrumentation, the kind of thing you hear on the Americana hour on public radio, not on commercial country. The singing kicked in and it was ... Dierks Bentley, again.

Am I going to have to eat my earlier words? Saw the CD tonight at Borders, had a 30% Off coupon, and seriously considered buying the thing. But maybe I need to hear those songs a few more times first. And even then, the Jamey Johnson double-disc set is only $15.99 -- probably the better value, the better album(s) all around.

But this Dierks Bentley CD ... if the two songs I heard tonight are indicative of the album's quality (I was not a big fan of the title track, which was the first single), I gotta let up on the guy.

#10 Josh Hurst

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Posted 17 September 2010 - 10:09 PM

Christian, I don't know what the second song was, of course, but for what its worth, I think the song with Lambert and Johnson is a little bit more representative of the album overall, while the title track is far and away the slickest, most crossover-ready thing on the album.

#11 Christian

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Posted 01 April 2011 - 02:05 PM

Bought it for half off at a Borders "Store Closing" sale, and I'm officially eating crow. I like this album more than I thought I would. Nothing to add to what Josh and Andy have already said, except the following.

I thought my cynicism toward the release had been overcome after listening to it, but after paging through the CD jacket and reading the song credits, etc., I turned to find the final page of the jacket contained Dierks' notes and dedication -- written entirely in lowercase letters. This annoys me to no end. My message to Dierks:

i don't expect liner notes to be grammatically sound or particularly interesting. but is it asking too much for standard capitalization?

Edited by Christian, 09 February 2012 - 02:56 PM.


#12 Christian

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 07:58 PM

A 32-minute Mountain Stage concert.

#13 Gina

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Posted 09 June 2011 - 11:49 AM

I have this album and love it. "Draw Me a Map" is my favorite song from it. But I've always liked Dierks anyway. I like quite a lot of commercial country, incurable lowbrow that I am. :D

(Christian, I think I heard the exact same broadcast that you did back in September 2010! I remember that song being played on the 5:30 Future File. But then it was never released as a single.)

#14 Christian

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Posted 09 February 2012 - 02:54 PM

Dierks has a new CD, Home, out now, and the title track, which is getting some airplay, is surprisingly good.

Chris Richards profiled the singer and had nice things to say about the new recording:

Dierks Bentley’s new album, “Home,” finds him cast as lover man, party bro, proud patriot, dedicated dad. Throughout his career, he has gone from bar-crawling lothario to devoted husband from one song to the next.

But so what? Like an actor playing a role, great country singers inhabit their songs and make them sound like they’re living it all right before your ears. When it works, it feels Oscar-worthy. When it doesn’t, it feels suspect, like a politician doling out sweet nothings on the stump.

Dierks Bentley is a great country singer.


About Up on the Ridge, Richards writes:

He found a different kind of magic when a friend dragged him to the Station Inn, the bluegrass club where Bentley fell under the spell of banjos, fiddles and mandolins. He still endeavored to make popular country songs in the mold of Hank Williams Jr. and Merle Haggard, but he made a point to pepper each album with a little bluegrass.

Success followed. Three of Bentley’s albums have topped the country charts, while two others came very close. That’s what made “Up on the Ridge” feel like such a gutsy move — one that Bentley says he had to make after spending 2009 on a tour that seemed never-ending.

“We’d be onstage for 45 minutes, and we had a really tight show,” Bentley says. “But the other 23 hours and 15 minutes of my life that year felt stifling. I was in the back in the bus thinking about how I need to do something different. . . . [“Up on the Ridge”] was totally off the grid with no rules at all.”

Bentley didn’t want to lose that feel with “Home” — so much so that he scrapped the first version of the album. “I realized that the record we made had gotten too far away from ‘Up on the Ridge,’ ” he says. “You can’t put acoustic [instruments] on afterwards. It sounds fake. . . . I had to get it right.”


Sounds promising, although way back when I started posting about Up on the Ridge, I compared it a bit favorably to John Mellencamp's No Better Than This, which I liked at the time but didn't think would get as many spins as Bentley's CD over the past year or so. Turns out the months have been kinder to the Mellencamp disc than to the Bentley disc. I still like both, but the test of time tells me No Better Than This is the superior recording, FWIW.

Edited by Christian, 09 February 2012 - 02:58 PM.


#15 Christian

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Posted 17 March 2012 - 08:58 AM

The local Country station plays a countdown show Saturday mornings. I'm listening while surfing the Net this morning, and they've just announced a new number 1 song this week: "Home," by Dierks Bentley.

I don't like it as much as any of the songs on "Up on the Ridge," but it's a good song -- much better than most of what I hear on the Country station.