Dierks Bentley – ‘The Mountain’ | Review by Amy Westney
Dierks Bentley, now a household name for country fans and many music fans alike. Over the years he has taken many turns in his career with regards to where he has headed with his sound, he has tested the waters on many paths and, in my opinion, is one of the few artists who has always nailed it!
Now 8 years ago I found myself in Nashville after a show at the Ryman downtown. As myself and many others exited the venue there was a guy in the parking lot handing out free CD’s which had a few tracks from ‘Up On The Ridge’, which at the time was soon to be Dierks’ latest release. I remember taking that CD and when I got back to where I was staying I had a listen and I was in my element, Dierks playing Bluegrass! This was proper country music! Why am I telling you all this? Because when we get albums through to review we also get a short advance press release to tell us a little bit about the album and before even listening I was getting excited. On the release it mentioned musicians such as Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and Tim O’Brian as well as Brothers Osbourne and Brandi Carlile. With Bluegrass royalty on this album, I was itching to get listening… So here is what I thought when I got the chance to sit down and take it all in!
Burning Man, the first track on the record, starts with a heavy kick drum and some obviously bluegrass guitar, a stripped back instrumental which slowly builds as it moves towards the chorus. Straight away it took me back to Up On The Ridge and the feel that rushed from that album. Additionally this song features the Brothers Osbourne, who are currently basking under a worldwide spotlight with their achievements, it would not surprise me if they had an influence on the production of this track because you can hear them in many elements of this song. A great start to what I am really hoping is going to be a fantastic album
“I’m a little bit holy water but still a little bit burning man”
The next track straight away has a little more of a southern rock feel but I still can’t shake the feeling this is the Dierks we heard all them years ago, back with a vengeance, and I love it. ‘The Mountain’ really talks about the climb of life, not only literally but figuratively, it’s about pushing through the challenge and taking it for what it is, and after all it’s only a mountain. The instrumental follows the lyrics and builds the song into the chorus but not too overpowering that the story gets lost. It is simple, understated, its got a very sort of ‘cowboy’ feel at times and the music is almost giving me more imagery than the lyrics, you can hear the rush and the struggle of the story in every note that is played. The electric guitar within the song brings the track to a more updated bluegrass feel whilst still keeping true to where it seems he is as an artist.
I am only 2 songs in but there is already a truth and a rawness to this album, I have always had a lot of respect for Bentley as an artist and it’s so clear he truly loves the genre and wants to stay true to himself and what he loves. Track 3, ‘Living’, bring us back to a little more plain old country in the best possible, it reminds me of something but I can’t quite put my finger on it, drums so far are very prominent throughout these first few songs and are used a lot to build the song.
“Some day’s you’re living”
‘Woman, Amen’ comes next with a lot more to go on this packed 13 track album. It starts off with a very folk beat, somewhat reminiscent of an old sea shanty type sound. I can already hear this echoing around the Nissan Stadium during CMA Fest as the chorus section gives us a great sing-along ‘ohhh’. In fact it is so much of a sing along that I am already singing with the track as I write these words to you! This is a lighters in the air, everyone singing at the top of their lungs kind of song. This is definitely more folk than any other genre but Dierks’ country vocals bring it right back down to the genre.
Next up with ‘You Can’t Bring Me Down’ we are introduced to the song with a quiet guitar and mandolin riff. In case I had not mentioned this yet… I am just loving this album! It’s country. Nowadays it is not always easy to utter those words and tell the truth with everything that is being released. There seems to be a real progression through all of Bentley’s albums over the years and he really seems to grow as an artists in every one. This song is all about taking the high road, finding forgiveness, enjoying life and being happy. Its uplifting, its a song full of advice, and a sentiment we should all try and share! There is also yet another sing along section which actually proceeds the hook like of the chorus as he heads into a ‘na na na na na nah’. The electric guitar within this is actually more of a rock solo at times with elements of that country sound every not and then but mixed in with the bluegrass mandolin its cuts through really nicely.
‘Nothing On But The Stars’ comes in with just drums that build until a smooth guitar line comes in again the music is understated, the lyric line is the star of the show. There is a darker feel to this track and it has deviated slightly from the feel of the previous tracks but its a nice contrast from what we have heard so far from this record. The song is all about having one last night with someone, it won’t be forever but this night will be perfect. It seems to be another play on that idea of the we can’t be together but we don’t want to let go kind of situation.
“I can’t have you forever, but I’ll take tonight”
With a very hooky, poppy guitar riff we head into ‘Goodbye In Telluride’. This song may be the closest we hear Dierks move towards the bro-country area of the genre, the verses find him almost talking the lyrics rather than signing however as he brings us into the chorus we find that country element creeping back in. It seems that having a place name is all the rage in songs right now!
Piano. Yep thats all I am hearing from this next track, ‘My Religion’, as it comes in, with chords that wouldn’t be out of place, played in a jazz bar, Dierks’ country vocals sit softly over the top throughout the song, a barebones love song, which is lifted only during the solo as a nice country guitar solo comes in song with an understated drum beat. Known for his party songs I think sometimes it’s easy to forget just how well he shines on tracks like this. More often than not we listen to these albums on Spotify, iTunes etc and we have them on shuffle. This song though feels perfectly placed to balance from the previous tune on the record and it gives us 2 very different perspectives of this artists talent.
‘One Way’ is number 9 and it brings us back to the feel we got from those first tracks. It almost have that classic old school kind of 90’s feel that we got from so many great artists back then. There is a fiddle playing throughout the track keeping it grounded to the genre it is comfortably sitting in. I could sit and listen to this hours, this feels like a light at the end of the tunnel in the crazy jumbled up genre that country is at the moment.
“Whatever the way, it’s gonna be one way this time”
Just when I think I am going to be more indifferent to a track in comes ‘Son Of The Sun’, I feel like I shouldn’t cover every song because I am going to repeat myself but maybe that needs to be done with this album! It really needs to be acknowledged that this album just feels like it it bringing country back! Though I wouldn’t class this track as strictly bluegrass there are some guitar licks and mandolin solos that would not be out of place on an Alison Krauss and Union Station record.
Sometimes on an album you see a track name and it catches your eye, this next is one of those. ‘Stranger To Myself’ is the next song and I was interested to see what direction this song would take. Answer… It is about him meeting his love and with her he is now the man he was meant to be.
“Without your love, I’d still be, someone else, a stranger to myself”
There is maybe a little bit of a soft rock feel to this track but it is not so much it does not feel in keeping with the rest of the songs and honestly this whole album so far is a breath of fresh air to listen to.
Brandi Carlile is a guest on the next song ‘Travelin’ Light’. Any song which features a word that has lost its last letter to an apostrophe says country to me! Ha! So I was excited to hear this one. I was not disappointed as it began and kicked right into a great bluegrass feel with a mandolin taking centre stage. One thing that I am wondering as I listen is that his ‘Up On The Ridge Album’ did not do as well as he had hoped. I am just hoping and praying that the same is not to be said about this record and that hopefully the raw country/bluegrass feel to this record will really speak to those fans that have been missing this sound. The combination of Dierks’ and Brandi’s vocals just compliment each other and the music perfectly, it is probably one of my favourite tracks on the record up to this point.
And… I just realised that I have just come to the end of the album, this is the last song, ‘How I’m Going Out’. It seems like a perfect closing song to this track listing. This is his job done, here at the end of the record and if this is the last song that anyone ever listens to of him, he has it all out on his sleeve in this track. It shows how grateful he is for what he has had, and how he doesn’t take this journey for granted, when it is his time he will let it come.
“It’s been a while since I heard that name…”
There we have it. I am totally in love with this record and I can’t wait for you all to hear it because I am going to go out on a limb and say this is going to gain a LOT of traction within the industry and should sure as hell be recognised for awards from CMA, ACM and the Grammys because when it comes to country music that is exactly what Dierks Bentley has created here.
What is really interesting is that this album was basically written in 5 days. Maybe one or two of these tracks came from a different time but for the most part the core of the record was made up from an epic writing session in Telluride. Bentley and his fellow ‘Telluwriters’ all bunked up in a small house, explored the area and dug deep into the peaceful, reflective vibe they were feeling. They had hoped to write 8 songs but ended up with nearly twice that number. It goes to show that deep in the heart of Colorado that place had more of a creative pull for what he wanted to create than Nashville at that time. If this is the sort of magic that happens out there then maybe we all need to take a little trip!
The album will be available June 8th to coincide with his CMA Fest performance on June 10th!
You can pre-order the record now from this link, trust me you will not regret it!: http://strm.to/TheMountain