Dierks Bentley and his producer, Jon Randall Stewart, previewed tracks from Bentley's impending country-bluegrass album, Up on the Ridge, during a Tuesday afternoon (March 30) listening party at engineer Gary Paczosa's studio in Nashville.
Although the instrumentation and sensibility of the 12-song album are solidly bluegrass, the project ventures well beyond the traditional sounds of that genre. The title cut, for example, is a rap-flavored, banjo-inflected paean to rural living, which Bentley co-wrote with songwriter-producer Angelo Petraglia, best known for his works with Kings of Leon.
Besides marking a return to the music that influenced Bentley early in his career, the album features guest appearances from such bluegrass luminaries as Del McCoury (one of the artist's regular picking and recording buddies), Alison Krauss, Sam Bush, Sonya Isaacs, the Punch Brothers (mandolinist Chris Thile's current group) and the SteelDrivers' Chris Stapleton.
Stewart has a distinguished bluegrass pedigree, as well, having toured and recorded as the lead guitarist in Emmylou Harris' fabled Nash Ramblers band.
Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson contribute stellar vocal performances on a lyrical exorcism called "Bad Angel," a Verlon Thompson-Suzi Ragsdale tune. Aided by McCoury and the Punch Brothers, Bentley also takes on U2's throbbing and incantatory "Pride (In the Name of Love)."
He resurrects "Rovin' Gambler," the old folk song, and creates a new one with the ancient-sounding coalfields lament, "Down in the Mine," a co-write with Stewart.
Bentley will launch his 24-date Up on the Ridge tour on April 21 in Portland, Ore., backed by the Traveling McCourys bluegrass band.
The album is scheduled for an early summer release.