For years, Dierks Bentley was generally considered just another handsome face in a sea of mainstream country stars.
From 2003 to 2009, the native Arizonan churned out platinum albums and No. 1 hits, riding modern country’s tried and true formula — drums and electric guitar, pop hooks and party-friendly lyrics (with some banjo and fiddle tossed in to keep things twangy) — to his place as one of the genre’s biggest stars.
But Bentley’s music always hinted at something a bit more traditional than that of his peers. And last year, that hint blossomed into “Up On the Ridge,” a heavily bluegrass-influenced album that featured not only 12 solid songs, but also an all-star cast of guests: Del McCoury, Miranda Lambert, Jamey Johnson, The Punch Brothers, Kris Kristofferson and more.
“I wanted to take it as far as I could before it became like a special ‘Dierks and Friends’ record,” he said in a telephone interview Monday. “I think I stopped one notch before that.”
The result is the best album of Bentley’s career. It was nominated for a Grammy and drew positive reviews from all corners. But commercially, it didn’t perform as well as his previous records.
It’s no surprise, then, that “Am I the Only One” — the lead single from Bentley’s upcoming album — is a return to the rabble-rousing sound that climbs charts.
Bentley, 35, is spending as much time as he can these days in the studio working on the new record (“it’s crunch time,” he said), though he’s currently taking a break for a tour that will stop in Bend on Wednesday.
He said the new album is much less bluegrassy than “Ridge,” but it’s not a reaction to that record’s performance.
“I love that music and I had so much fun making that record, but I do love the commercial country stuff as well,” he said. “The fun stuff. The rowdy stuff. The stuff that kinda puts diesel fuel in the bus, you know what I mean?”
He was quick to add, though, that bluegrass will always have a place in his heart and his music.
“It’s always going to be part of (what) I do,” Bentley said. “I think I’ll always try to find a way to get those instruments and those sounds into my records.”
He continued: “It all came to a head on (‘Ridge’), but after doing that record for a year you start to kinda miss the kick drum and the electric bass and you miss that energy, (so) you try to find a way to get that back in there without losing some of the stuff you learned along the way.”
Bentley said Bend will get to hear both sides of his music.
“I have all the tools,” he said. “We can do the stuff the party crowd wants to hear, but we can also do the ‘Ridge’ stuff. We can break it down and get in that bluegrass formation.”
— Ben Salmon