Without question, Ridley Bent‘s transition from Buck 65 styled country raps to more traditional, pop-laden country tunes has probably splintered his initial fan base. Now longer accessible to the younger crowd, Bent has had to work hard to carve out his new audience but on his last two records the musician offers actual country fans a solid collection of characters and stories based on musical history and tried and true themes – booze, women, cars – and the problems they all cause.
This is more than just the desire to follow the trends and throw some lap steel into the mix. Following in the tradition of men like Willie & George, Bent acknowledges that the best stories are the ones we’ve spun for years, he just filters those themes through his own lens. Rabbit On My Wheel is cobbled together from his life in Vancouver, the love of his life and following her to the tranquility of the Midwest, Bent delivers 12-songs that could find there way onto the jukebox of any authentic country western bar. Mixing tender moments (the piano laced “Love Sick” and “She Still Thinks I Care”) and boot stomping barn burners (“All The Heat Is In The Whiskey” and “I Can’t Turn My Back On The Bottle”), Bent and his band control the pace and mood of the record with a deft touch and it’s hard not to picture cats doing choreographed dances and sloshing back browns for the 50-minute run time.
Make no mistake. This record ain’t snap button plaid shirts. It’s ten gallon hats, crisp suits and bolo ties. It’s also excellent and tasteful acoustic/steel work and spot on harmonies that push Bent and his band to the top of the pile in terms of Canadian country popsters. Fiddle, strings, female backing vocals and even Luke Doucet’s cameo all put a professional sheen on the record, but Bent’s determination and appreciation of the past keep every note sounding authentic. Look, I’ll be honest. You might not like your country this polished and this far removed from the hippest alt-country indie rock bars, but if you do, you aren’t going to find a better collection of songs from any young artist in Canada.