10 Years Later: Dierks Bentley’s ‘Up On The Ridge’

The album was a superb change of pace for Bentley.

Written by Bob Paxman
10 Years Later: Dierks Bentley’s ‘Up On The Ridge’
Dierks Bentley performs on ABC's Good Morning America at Bridgestone Arena on November 10, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/WireImage)

Dierks Bentley’s fifth career album, Up on the Ridge, was a definite departure from his previous four. This time out, Dierks made a record that could hardly be termed mainstream or designed for commercial consumerism. Instead, Up on the Ridge carried a heavy bluegrass influence, and not only showcased Bentley’s love for the genre but fairly well reveled in it. The album was a glorious, joyful mix of bluegrass, country, and Americana, with a carefully selected song list featuring guest artists galore: Miranda Lambert, the Punch Brothers, Alison Krauss, and Vince Gill, among others. It debuted June 8, 2010. Ten years later, the record remains a project to be celebrated for Bentley’s willingness to take an artistic risk and, ultimately, for pulling it off.

The idea apparently had been circulating in Bentley’s head for some time. He often recalled hanging out at Nashville bluegrass staple the Station Inn after he first moved to Music City, and how he grew to admire the amazing musicians that played there. Each of his previous albums had featured a bluegrass selection. Bentley told CNN, “I moved to Nashville when I was 19, and discovered this world of acoustic bluegrass music, and I just thought it was really authentic.” As he noted on his website, fans had continually urged him to put together a bluegrass album. “This album won’t come as a surprise to my hard core fans,” Bentley wrote. “They’ve asked me, ‘When are you going to make a bluegrass record?’ And I was just waiting for the right time.”

Dierks Bentley; Cover art courtesy Capitol Nashville

Up on the Ridge put the emphasis on acoustic music – virtually no electric instruments, and void of drum machines or other modern techno touches. That stayed true to the bluegrass tradition but it’s a bit of a stretch to deem Up on the Ridge a traditional bluegrass album. Certainly not when the selections included covers of U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and Bob Dylan’s “Senor (Tales of Yankee Power).” Amazingly, Bentley and the album’s producer Jon Randall, with the able backing of their A-list guests, made these sound as if they’d been written specifically for the bluegrass genre. “When we were making this album,” Bentley once told Sounds Like Nashville, “we didn’t follow the rules of what a modern ‘country’ record should or should not sound like. We just tried to make a great album.”


Like a well-cast movie, Up on the Ridge perfectly matched the contributing artists with the songs on which they performed. Nowhere is that better exemplified than in “Bad Angel,” an age-old tale of giving in (or not) to temptation written by Verlon Thompson and Suzi Ragsdale, the daughter of Ray Stevens. Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson do the guest turns here, and both are superb. Lambert lends the right touch of sass, and when Johnson warbles, Well, I know I should not gamble/’Cause I can’t afford to lose, you feel the world-weariness in his voice.

“Draw Me a Map,” the second single from the record after the title track, resonated beautifully with a backing vocal by Alison Krauss, who gave it the sweetness it required. The single carried a sensitive message, as the guy wonders what he did (or said) wrong and longs to know how to get back on the right road to his true love. With the key line of “Draw me a map,” it’s a different angle on an often-stated subject, with a sentiment that women would likely relish hearing from a guy. Add up those components and you’d think instant hit. “Fans have been asking for ‘Draw Me a Map’ ever since we released the album,” Bentley had noted to Sounds Like Nashville. But the single, for one of those unexplained reasons, finished outside of the Top 30, the lowest-peaking song of Bentley’s career at that time.

The selection “Fallin’ for You” just may have introduced Chris Stapleton to the general public. Stapleton, as the lead voice of bluegrass group The SteelDrivers, was an inside Music Row favorite, but mostly unknown on a wider scale. Bentley enlisted Stapleton’s tortured growl for the album’s “Fallin’ for You,” and his delivery will surely rearrange all the hairs on your head. In a behind-the-scenes video promoting the song, Bentley raved that, “Chris is probably the best singer in the world,” an idea of the respect Stapleton held within the industry.

The genre-bending band the Punch Brothers, featuring mandolin player supreme Chris Thile, contributed throughout Up on the Ridge. Their smart, expert playing highlighted such selections as “Senor (Tales of Yankee Power),” “Rovin’ Gambler,” a throwback bluegrass workout that echoed memories of Flatt & Scruggs, and the U2 cover “Pride (In the Name of Love).” The extraordinary Sam Bush lit up the title track with his relentless, energetic mandolin shredding. And who better to join Bentley on the Kris Kristofferson song “Bottle to the Bottom” than Kristofferson himself?

No guest artist elicited more response, though, than bluegrass giant Del McCoury, for his vocal segment on “Pride (In the Name of Love).” His high-pitched, mountain wail may have seemed totally miscast for the song, but McCoury brought home the passion of the U2 original, even though he insisted in interviews that he had not been familiar with it until Bentley played it for him. The inclusion of the song proved the most polarizing choice for the album. Some fans and reviewers argued that it was out of place, while others took the view that the bluegrass arrangement was innovative and definitely respectful. Listen especially for the on-point mandolin solo, replacing the guitar segment so familiar to listeners from U2’s version. It worked perfectly.


Bentley has stated that he made Up on the Ridge for the chance to briefly break away from the mainstream and exercise some artistic freedom. No such hint of “vanity project” or any other similar term. “I didn’t want this to be ‘Dierks Bentley and Friends,’ or a ‘Dierks does bluegrass’ kind of album,” he pointed out on his website. He wanted each song to have its own true meaning.

His love and respect for bluegrass obviously shines through. The album has a clear direction, showing what can be done with pure, acoustic instruments, clever arrangements, and crisp harmonies, and without the plethora of studio tricks. Though the album paid homage to an older genre, it was about as progressive a record as any country artist has made in the last 20 years.