Single Review: Dierks Bentley, “Up on the Ridge”

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

Grade: C+

Listen: Up on the Ridge

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11 Comments

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11 Responses to Single Review: Dierks Bentley, “Up on the Ridge”

  1. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    I’ve only heard clips of the album on Amazon, but the other tracks seem like they’ll be much better than this song. I’m afraid he may be the weak link of the album from what I’m hearing on the clips though. I hope I’m wrong though. I’ll be the first to buy the album next Tuesday for the Punch Brothers spots alone.

    As for this particular song, I just don’t like the chorus. He sounds like he’s distracted and it reminds me of rave music or something.

  2. Hoggy from OzNo Gravatar

    I got “Fiddlin Around” today off iTunes and I really am enjoying it…although I am I sucker for some fierce fiddle playin’…

    Great review by the way. The lyrics are as shallow as a puddle in the grass, but the sound really grows on you :D

  3. this song fell WAY short of my expectations and I’m hoping the rest of the album doesn’t sound like this.

  4. I think Dierks is trying to “play it safe,” if you know what I mean. He wants to do some bluegrass, but he also wants to continue his streak of hit singles. True bluegrass music is not country radio’s cup of tea, so Dierks created a bluegrass-ish song that is tailor-made for radio. Aside from the bland lyrics, I thought that the production was too polished for bluegrass. Also, I consider Dierks to be merely an average vocalist, and he has yet to truly impress me.
    My review:
    http://1to10countryreview.blogspot.com/2010/04/dierks-bentley-up-on-ridge.html

  5. Erik NorthNo Gravatar

    In Dierks’ defense, he did get featured on the 2003 Louvin Brothers tribute album LIVIN’, LOVIN’, LOSIN’, doing “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby” with Harley Allen; and there has been a fair amount of bluegrass instrumentation in several of the hits he’s had.

    I do agree with Ben Foster, however; his voice isn’t necessarily worth writing home about.

  6. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    I usually like his voice, though it’s certainly not pretty.

    He includes a bluegrass track on each of his albums. His bluegrass street cred certainly isn’t in question.

  7. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    I pretty much agree with Dan’s review here, and Ben’s comment as well. But I will say this; I saw Dierks once in concert a few years ago and his Bluegrass mini-set was by far the best thing about the show. While not the best I’ve ever heard, I have no doubt he has a true love for the music and look forward to hearing the rest of the album.

    Nice review by the way Ben, I especially like the way you cite Patty Loveless Mountain Soul albums as the gold standard for this kind of endeavor by a Country music artist.

  8. 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.

    It’s pretty fantastic album, but I don’t know if that’s what Bentley accomplishes with it. If anything, the album proves that he’s self-aware enough to know his limitations as a performer and smart enough to know when to let his collaborators take center stage. He gets plenty of opportunities to shine, but one of the things that makes the album work as well as it does is its spirit of collaboration and how Bentley clearly was inspired by the amazing group of artists who came in to work with him.

    That said, the title cut would be my pick as the weakest on the entire album (with the U2 cover that doesn’t really work as a Bluegrass number running a close second), and it’s an odd choice for the lead-off single.

    Terrific, perceptive writing here, Dan, as always.

  9. I hope no one was too put off by my criticism of Dierks’ voice. It really just comes down to my personal opinion. I guess his voice reasonates differently with me than with his fans. It’s just not my cup of tea – that’s all.

  10. AlanNo Gravatar

    all i will say is Dierks is probably the only top artist in country that has the balls to even put out an album that is this traditional. And a lot of his hits involve banjo riffs and steel guitar (lot of leavin) and dobro in “Thinkin”. Realize that its not his fault for putting out this song but country radio because they won’t play anything thats “too country”. Do you see Paisly or chesney putting out traditional albums..too me its very refreshing to see a modern country artist stick to his roots and not let the fame get to him…to me its very unique and not the same crap like you hear from paisly…and believe me, hes not “taking it safe” by any means here

  11. AlanNo Gravatar

    another thing is you put this song between a Lady A song and a keith urban song and tell me this aint traditional stuff. This song in particular isnt neccesarily 100% bluegrass, but is definently the way country oughta be