Record Review – Ridley Bent – Buckles and Boots (Open Road)

Most Americans aren’t aware of the rich country music tradition in Canada. The twangy stuff drifted up from the States in the early part of the 20th century from then burgeoning US radio shows like WBAP, Fort Worth (1923), WLS, Chicago (‘WLS Barn Dance’ 1924), and WSM, Nashville (‘Grand Ole Opry‘ 1925). Country music was soon being broadcast on Canadian radio, beginning with George Wade and His Cornhuskers on CFRB, Toronto, in 1928, and Don Messer on CFBO, Saint John, NB, in 1929.

The point of this Canuckian history lesson is to understand how someone as genuinely country as Ridley Bent can come from the Great White North (Halifax-born, Alberta-raised, Vancouver-based, to be exact.) There’s a lot of history to draw on.

From the official PR sheet- Ridley was “Fed by a steady diet pulp westerns, and recent collaborations with housemates and sometime writing partners, Dustin Bentall and Cam Latimer, Ridley’s renewed interest came to a head during a long, unplanned detour on Vancouver Island. He had a grand total of five records to hand, but never got past George Jones’ Super Hits and Brad Paisley’s Part Two. Those records got Ridley to thinking, not just about what kind of music he wanted to make, but what kind of band he wanted to make it with…

“A wicked Country band,” he says flatly – the kind that makes a record sound like its been tracked in one go, by a crew of heavy, road savvy players in matching suits. So, with a fist full of new songs, Ridley teamed up with Vancouver based producer and multi-instrumentalist Johnny Ellis to do just that…” And with “Buckles and Boots” (Open Road) Ridley Bent has made a great country album that should assure him Nashville stardom. He has the looks, the wardrobe, the sound, hell, he even has the perfect name. The rub against mainstream success is what makes Ridley Bent’s music so compelling. His daring ventures into smart narratives instead of hackneyed cliches and and an occasional genre-bending excursion instead of cookie-cutter arrangements dictated from the marketing department (Ridley’s MySpace genre is listed as Country / Hip Hop / Western Swing) will be his mainstream undoing. Even with his adept grasp on tradition he clearly is clearly unafraid to take on a challenge.

The opening title song gets things is revved-up Bakersfield style with forlorn broken-hearted lyrics that stand in contrast with the boot-skootin arrangement and the cracker-jack 7-piece band consisting of the country staples of steel, slide and lead guitars, fiddles, piano and organs – all ripping it up with abandon.

“Nine Inch Nails” is another break-up song in a Texas-shuffle Bob Wills style with a ripping guitar break and a title that refers to the mixed up albums that resulted in the split with his lady. I love a song that name checks Tom T Hall and Husker Du in the same song! Funny and brilliantly executed with heart.

“Cry” is another breakup song (sensing a theme here), but it’s the first one that sound like it. Opening with the sad mourn of lap-steel and fiddle the song is a waltz of loneliness. I don’t know if Scott wrote this song as a tip-of-the-hat to Johnny Cash (who had his own hit with a different Cry, Cry, Cry) but if he did this is a fitting tribute to the Man In Black.

“Heartland Heartbreak” (here we go again!) gets the party stared again with a song George Strait would kill to record and “Arlington” is a life-on-the-road country love song that can only be described a beautiful and shows no hint of Nashville-style cloying. A moving tale of unrequited love loaded with longing, “Faded Red Hoodie” should be a hit on all country radio stations everywhere. “Mama” sound like a Lyle Lovett-style ditty about a long in the tooth road-racer on run from the law.

Apache Hairlifter is where genre’s fold in. Ridley blazed new ground with hick-hop on his first release “Blam” and on this cut he moves back to his brand of spoken word story-telling. It works better then anything Kid Rock ever tried and rap and country aren’t that as strange as it might see, Listen to Johnny Cash’s cover of Hank Snow classic “I’ve Been Everywhere”
and tell me rap and country have no common elements. Apache Hairlifter has dope flow (couldn’t resist, yo) as it unfolds a story about a cow-puncher and his adventures in the wold-west and an encounter with an Indian beauty.

This is a pleasant late addition to my best of 2007 list!


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