I’ve seen Dierks Bentley in concert every which way. Arenas, honky tonks, health clubs. But I’ve never seen him (or heard him) sound as good as he did on Wednesday afternoon (June 9). He was in the studio with DJ Al Skop, about 40 other lucky fans and me. The show was broadcasting live on The Highway, the Sirius XM radio station that plays new country, which is weird because other than the fact that it’s from Bentley, there’s nothing very new or mainstream or pop about this country music. It is more old-school roots music that he just bluegrassed up. And it’s even better live than it is on his new Up on the Ridge album.
Bentley was there to christen this Music City Theatre right inside Nashville’sBridgestone Arena, overlooking the Ryman Auditorium and lower Broadway. He only had time for seven songs, but he chose them well. He and his six-man band did old ones like “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go),” “Sideways” and “Feel That Fire,” but even on those, Bentley said he was trying to put a bluegrass twist on them. The other four tunes he played were all good, the kind that Bentley said are good for gettin’ away and doing some good pickin’. And when it came time to sing one of the album’s best and brightest, “Draw Me a Map,” he had Ronnie McCoury fill in for Alison Krausswho shares vocals with Bentley on the album. McCoury also played the hell out of his mandolin on every single song they did.
In the countless interviews Bentley’s done for this album, he keeps saying that it’s not a purely bluegrass album. That it has more of a country/bluegrass sound but with a rock ‘n’ roll mentality. And he usually adds, like he did at this broadcast, that so many of his old songs already had a banjo-driven feel. At this point, I don’t care what he calls it. I think this music is so unique it transcends any kind of box you try to put it in. So much so, I went back for more to hear him play later that night at Nashville’sLimelight.