In response to his 2013 “Best of” Country list not having enough “mainstream” artists, Entertainment Weekly Country Music writer Grady Smith responded to his detractors with the hilarious, cutting and depressing video “Why Country Music Was Awful in 2013.” This three-and-a-half minute retort distills “Bro-Country” into the generic, auto-tuned hick hop it is, ceaselessly churned out by cowboy hat and ball cap sweatshops in some secret corner of Nashville. If Willie Nelson’s quote about how a country song is “three chords and the truth” then these takes on the genre are “three cold beers and some bullshit.”
While Canadian country troubadour Ridley Bent may be far enough away geographically and musically from twang bro-downs, even he’s well aware of the state of the union. “It’s more modern pop than country on the radio these days” says Bent. “There’s good instrumentation, but there’s very few good songs. There’s definitely a formula they have in Nashville. They have great singers and players but, original songs, they just don’t happen.” However he admits that “even I have been in a situation where I was approached to co-write a song that was intended to go mainstream. I was being relied upon for lyrical content versus instrumentation and I was asked to do that. I couldn’t.”
Thankfully, writing his own material come far more naturally and his new album, Wild Card, promises some prime examples. “My songs may have traditional elements like fiddle, piano, steel guitar and a good story line, but I always like to think of it as country music that rocks,” states Bent. As for the lyrical inspiration, it extends beyond pick-ups and dirt roads. “I was at a party in Vancouver and a guy was wearing a T-shirt that said ‘Brooklyn, Texas.’ So of course I wondered if it was really a place. It’s not a place but it was once a place, it’s a ghost town now. So there I am, looking up a place that hasn’t existed in years and years so I can write a song because I saw some guy’s shirt at a party.”
As for the rest of the new album, he promises a mix of nice songs, slow songs and twists on traditional country songs. “As I said, some of these songs are coming from books,” continues Bent, “some of them are coming from real life and some of them are coming from a bit of both.”
While you may not be able to tailgate party the weekend away to Wild Card, that shouldn’t matter because you can’t do that with Waylon, Willie, or Hank Sr., either. Does this bother him? “Even with that kind of song, it’s not easy. No song writing is easy.” For fans of good songwriting you can catch Ridley Bent and constant guitarist Chris Dunn across Alberta “in listening rooms. That way you’ll get a great chance to hear the new songs.” Whether you blast them from your truck after the show is up to you.
Catch Ridley Bent at the Ironwood (Calgary) on February 28.
By Spencer Brown