I don’t know about y’all, but Dierks Bentley has been on this swift downward trajectory for me ever since his killer trio of “Every Mile a Memory”, “Long Trip Alone” and “Free And Easy (Down the Road I Go)” back in ’06/’07. I don’t know whether his team got spooked by Long Trip Alone‘s low sales and tried to force crowd-pleasers out of him or if he just ran out of interesting ideas on his own. Either way, it’s been a bummer.
I believe in second chances, though, and there’s no better way to prime me for one than to announce a roots-based or traditionalist project. (Like, even Kellie Pickler is getting me kind of curious.) So I was pumped to hear that Bentley was planning on releasing a full bluegrass album, especially one with actual radio singles. And here we are at the first one, the upcoming album’s title track.
Now, as Bentley is an A-minus-list country star who cut some of his teeth at Nashville’s Station Inn, it’s no surprise that he managed to corral the very finest pickers for this project, and it’s no surprise that those pickers sound very well-arranged here. “Up on the Ridge” has a dark, shimmering newgrass production that doesn’t quit, and that alone will easily make it one of 2010’s most memorable singles.
Unfortunately, that production is forced to prop up some pretty weak efforts by the headlining artist. The song – an extended invitation to join its singer for a sexy camping trip – sounds like it was written merely as a means to get to its cool-sounding title. The melody and lyrics are serviceable but stagnant, offering none of the excitement of similarly-themed singles like “Fishin’ in the Dark”, “Hey Bobby” or even “Mud on the Tires.” Even Bentley’s vocal sounds awkard and disconnected as it mulls over throwaway lines about his dog howling at an owl (or something). So while the record has a cooler style than, say, “Sideways,” its substance suffers from many of the same shortcomings.
Worse still, the juxtaposition of the awesome guest players and the thoroughly bland song and performance by Bentley makes the single sound like a premature vanity project, something no one would’ve wanted to contribute to if the chief creator weren’t a star. That’s probably not the case, as Bentley seems like a great guy and a genuine friend to the bluegrass community. But it’s abundantly obvious who’s doing the heavy lifting here; I can only hope that the rest of the album showcases Bentley’s own talents much better.
Written by Dierks Bentley and Angelo Petraglia
Listen: Up on the Ridge