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Bentley takes bluegrass detour "Up on the Ridge"

Dierks Bentley performs onstage during the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo December 11, 2008. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

NASHVILLE (Billboard) - Some might consider Dierks Bentley’s June 8 release “Up on the Ridge” a departure from his usual style. But the acoustic, bluegrass-flavored venture is actually a return to the country star’s roots.

When he was a 19-year-old struggling to get in the business, Bentley used a fake ID to get into Nashville’s Station Inn listening room. There, he fell in love with the music.

“I love bluegrass. I love acoustic music, so I’ve always wanted to make a record like this,” the Phoenix native says. “Last year, I needed to slow the wheels down a little bit, take some time off to make this kind of record. The original thought was I’d make a bluegrass record and a country record. And once I started working on the bluegrass record, I quickly became aware that this was the only record I’d be making, because we started breaking down the barriers between genres.”

“Up on the Ridge” includes appearances by Alison Krauss, Miranda Lambert, Jamey Johnson, Kris Kristofferson, Vince Gill, Chris Stapleton and the Punch Brothers. Bluegrass legend Del McCoury joins Bentley on a remake of U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love).” The title track is one of five new songs Bentley co-wrote on the 12-song collection, which was recorded in Nashville and Brooklyn. “This is not your father’s bluegrass record,” Bentley says. “This is definitely new ground.”

Both Bentley and his label, Capitol Nashville, are planning an ambitious campaign to promote “Up on the Ridge.” “We are launching this in both traditional and nontraditional ways,” Capitol Records Nashville president/CEO Mike Dungan says. “Dierks is actually touring in front of this record. It doesn’t come out until June 8, and Dierks is on the road right now to attract attention to it. ... We’re doing it a little backward here, but so far, it looks really good.”

Bentley is doing 24 concerts in 30 days, backed by his usual drummer and steel guitar player in addition to acclaimed bluegrass musicians Rob and Ronnie McCoury and Jason Carter from the Del McCoury Band. “I have my drummer and steel player to prop me up when I’m trying to hang in there with the Del McCoury Band,” he says.

When a successful artist takes a musical detour, it can often result in a loss of career momentum. However, when Bentley approached Dungan and the Capitol Nashville team with the idea of doing an acoustic record that would be “a hybrid of bluegrass and country,” they were encouraging. “It’s so cool to see the support they’ve given the record that’s a little bit left of center,” Bentley says.

“Too many people play it safe,” Dungan says. “I don’t think it’s too far out there that it’s going to in any way derail him. I think it makes perfect sense ... If careers are going to be hampered ... by something great, then there’s something wrong with the world.”