Self-development author Ben Sweetland once said, “Success is a journey, not a destination.” With five studio albums now released and multiple music awards and nominations (including CMT Breakthrough Video of the Year), Dierks Bentley is indeed on this journey of success. The Phoenix born country star, in his fifth studio album Up on the Ridge, ditches the mainstream commercial country sound prominent today (and in his previous albums) and returns to the country scene with an acoustic album.
Bentley’s acoustic album is of a unique nature, for it incorporates bluegrass and root elements into its sound to pay homage to the artistic music that inspired Bentley to become a country musician. The banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and dobro (a resonator guitar) are all classical bluegrass instruments used throughout Up on the Ridge, but the album as a whole is not a pure bluegrass project. Instead, Dierks Bentley incorporates some modern elements, such as drum patterns and catchy melodies, to innovate and create a nascent sound.
The first single off the album, “Up on the Ridge,” is also the debut track. With its studio produced introduction, the listener is sucked into the world that Bentley describes in the song. The mysterious and moody melody will have you tapping your feet and wanting to visit the place where there is full liberation and fun. The mandolin and banjo are distinct instruments in the song and they successfully frame the lyrics. This is a perfect opening track for the album, for it eases the listener into the more distinctly bluegrass songs present later in the album.
“Falling For You” is a slower song on the album, and the acoustic elements are more prominent in sound than in the previous track. Through the lyrics, Bentley describes the feelings one feels when they fall in love with another person, unassured of the reciprocated feelings. The beat is undoubtedly catchy and the whiny run in the song exhibits the pain the person feels with not knowing if their crush holds the same feeling, but it is poorly placed in the album. This track drags the listener into melancholy and takes away from the power and high energy created from the previous track (“Up on the Ridge”).
The first cover on the album is “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power),” originally sung by Bob Dylan. The track continues with the slower theme created by “Falling For You,” but showcases the beautiful fiddle runs, guitar strums, and vocal cries of both Bentley and the featuring artist, Chris Thile & The Punch Brothers. “Señor” describes the unfortunate circumstances of a man who lost everything he once had and can no longer see the point of life itself.
“Rovin’ Gambler” is the second song featuring the Punch Brothers and is the fourth song off the twelve track album. This song brings back the energy in its fast paced ditty about one man’s experiences at poker tables. It begins with a short, soft dialect between the Punch Brothers, which makes you feel as though you are present at a party where this song is being played. Although the song is not lyrically deep, it has a fun tune and will make you want to dance.
The fifth song off the album is “Draw Me a Map,” describes an individual longing to find how to get back into their lover’s heart. The symbolism and metaphors in the song are great and they relate physical earthiness to trying to close the distance between the individual and their lover. The guitar strumming is the star of the ballad and overpowers the other instruments. Vocally, the emotion is prominent and add to the production of the song. With Alison Krauss, a popular country artist, on background vocals, the song reams of promise.
“Bad Angel” is the six track and features the ever popular Miranda Lambert & Jamey Johnson vocally. The song describes the temptations felt by many, and trying to overcome the desires of that temptation. The three distinct voices come together and form a beautiful story, generalizing that no individual is free from the temptation. The track masterfully mixes all the instruments and will have the listener nodding their head with the beat.
“Fiddlin’ Around,” is appropriately titled since the fiddle work of Stuart Duncan is distinctly featured in the song. Vince Gill adds his voice to the song with the background vocals. The song describes an attempt at a secret meeting in the dark but the girl changes her mind and is ignoring the advances of the boy. The song as a whole has a fun beat and will be a country lover’s must-have for their collection.
The seventh song off the album is “You’re Dead to Me,” and the song describes the feelings of finally getting over someone. Co-written and featuring Tim O’Brien vocally in the background, the song is not your typical post-breakup song of heartbreak, but of celebration for finally overcoming the mountain of pain. It is one of the gems of Up on the Ridge, and the bluegrass instruments create a funeral-esque environment and sound, creating a play on the title.
“Pride (In the Name of Love)” is a country cover of U2’s famous song. Starting soft and crescendoing into the main beat of the song, the song features Bentley in the chorus and Del McCoury taking over the tenor aspects vocally. Again, the Punch Brothers contribute their instrumental genius to create a U2 sound but with a country twist. Although this cover has been criticized by many, it successfully displays the music of U2 to an audience who might otherwise not have heard of the ever so popular band. Give it a listen and be the judge yourself.
Slowing the album down again is “Love Grows Wild,” a masterful love song that prominently displays the acoustic guitar and Dierk Bentley’s powerful voice. The lyrics describe a love that is requited and the thankfulness for that return. The song slows and decrescendos at the end, showing the mystery of where the love will continue to grow. The simplicity of the song shows that love is enough, and there is no need for extra production outside of the emotion.
“Bottle To The Bottom,” features Kris Kristofferson, and describes the heartbreak aspect of lost love but seeing the positive of the breakup. The song keeps upbeat and speeds up the album again from the previous slower ditty. The classical country instruments have a prolonged interlude to pay homage to the talent on the album, the love Bentley has for their sound, and to the instruments that shaped the album to be what it is.
The album ends with the slow song, “Down In The Mine,” which describes the hard life of the Kentucky Harlan County coal miners. It resembles a campfire song, which was prominent in the life in the wild west to reveal the stories of real people. This song draws to the true roots of country, and the instruments take a backburner to Bentley’s vocal tracking, showing respect for the story to be told. It is a beautiful ending to a successful album.
Overall, Dierks Bentley embraces his love for the bluegrass genre and successfully marries it to his country music to create a masterful fifth studio album. The impressive vocals, expert musicianship, and creative songs, the album is refreshing for the country listener who wants a break from the commercial country taking over the radio. The chances Bentley took with the album paid off, and his passion behind his work is winsome.