Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dierks Bentley, "Up On the Ridge"

Dierks Bentley's latest album drops on June 8, and it has been labeled a "bluegrass" album, or at least "bluegrass-influenced." That immediately raises my expectations. Maybe it's because I live in the rolling hills of Kentucky, but I definitely have an appreciation for good bluegrass music. I wondered if this new album would come anywhere close to the artistic excellence of bluegrass-tinged album like the Dixie Chicks' Home, or Patty Loveless's critically-acclaimed Mountain Soul albums. But the album's titled track and lead-off single, "Up On the Ridge," has weaknesses that make it fare badly in comparison to the songs heard on these albums.

The best compliment I can give this song is that it is interesting to hear. The banjo and dobro administer a good dose of twang that has been sorely lacking on country radio. But one of the problems with "Up On the Ridge" is that the over-polished production is too similar to Dierks's previous material, and too similar to many other current country hits. It lacks the quality of being new and different, and it lacks the down-home rootsy charm that characterizes true bluegrass music.
The song's tag line is "That's how we live up on the ridge." Unfortunately, we have heard an endless flood of songs that describe how somebody lives. When I hear yet another song about a backwoods romance, it sounds to me like the song is aimed squarely at country radio. Traditional bluegrass music typically does not do well on country radio. Thus, it would seem that Dierks is trying to "play it safe" by giving country radio listeners a more bluegrassy version of the kind of music that they expect to hear on country radio.

To Dierks's credit, this song still sounds more country than most of the music that is marketed as country. I will say once more that I like hearing those acoustic instruments. Overall, this is a solid effort, but "Up On the Ridge" doesn't quite live up to the hype. Let's hope that the rest of this so-called "bluegrass" album is a little better.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)