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Cowboy-beat poet enjoys gritty, story-driven tunes

Alt-country singer Ridley Bent says there’s something about being on stage with a twangy guitar and a honky-tonk piano playing . . . .

“It’s the funnest time in the world!”

This sentiment would have surprised Bent’s younger self — for when the Nova Scotia-born, Alberta-bred musician was growing up, country mu- sic was something his father, a Canadian soldier, played on the guitar. “He called himself a three-chord, country- bum strummer,” recalled Bent.

Since country music was his dad’s domain, he did not think the genre was very cool. Instead the 41-year-old — who performs his gritty, story-driven tunes on Saturday, March 1, at The Hideout in Gasoline Alley, south of Red Deer — grew up listening to The Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine.

But some of his father’s strumming must have stuck, for when Bent started writing his own tunes at the age of 27 (“I got into it late,” admitted the fomer ski resort and hotel worker), he came up with a funky blend of country and rap that was christened “hick- hop.”

His unorthodox first album, Blam, caught the critics’ attention in 2009. It

produced the hit tune Suicidewinder, and spawned some hybrid country/hip- hop fans.

Bent admitted these early supporters weren’t impressed when he was lured into writing more country/rock-

flavoured songs, in the vein of Tom Petty, Lyle Lovett or Dwight Yoakam for his next couple of albums.

Buckles and Boots (2010) and Rabbit on My Wheel (2012), contain no trace of hip hop, but they got him into contention for roots artist and group of the year awards with the Canadian Country Music Association.

As well, his song Nine Inch Nails, off the Buckles and Boots album, won the eighth annual Independent Mu-sic Awards and Vox Pop vote for Best Country Song.

Bent explained that the crack country musicians he was playing with showed him the genre could be a lot of fun to play, more or less straight up.

It also appealed that country drew an older, more respectful audience that paid more attention to his lyrics than the youth-oriented rap/party crowd.

While Bent, who has lived in Germany and across Canada, including Cold Lake and Calgary, intends to record another hick-hop album one day, he’s sticking with more rockin’ country for his new release, Wildcard. It’s due out in March and is filled with his usual cast of oddball characters — gamblers, drifters, ne’er-do-wells, and love-struck fools.

“If you’re a fan of Ridley Bent’s, you can always get into my lyrics,” said the singer, who’s been called a cowboy beat-poet for his funny/sad/witty songs that weave whole worlds out of a few words.

Like blues musician Mose Allison, Bent often ap- proaches songwriting by putting a twist on a popular catch-phrase.

For instance, Fill Your Boots, off the upcoming album, is a ballad about one of Bent’s hard-living, archetypal characters — a trucker who becomes a gambler, loses all his money and begins chasing a woman at the Calgary Stampede. The expression “fill your boots” comes to describe excess.

Kicking up dust becomes associated with leaving town in a song of the same name, while Brooklyn, TX becomes the name of a free-spirited woman the nar- rator is trying to win back in another tune.

Bent, who moved to Winnipeg after falling in love and marrying a Winnipegger, said The Most Beautiful Woman tries to capture the effusive emotions that come with falling for someone.

“It’s like wow, this is amazing! It’s so awesome. We’re on fire!”

The songwriter who has been called “an excep- tionally literate lyricist,” generally doesn’t have too much trouble finding words for songs, either by him- self or with co-writers — although he tends to labour over his lyrics with frequent rewrites and edits.

The tunes are another matter.

“There’s a magic to writing songs. When I think of a melody, I don’t know where it comes from. All of a sudden, it’s there. ...

“As a songwriter, you train yourself to remember these melody lines,” said Bent.

To ensure that he does, he hums his new-found tunes into his iPhone.

Admission for his 9 p.m. show is $10 at the door. For more information, call 403-348-5309.

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