Carl Bentley has about as authentic of an origin story as a bluegrass musician could want. Growing up in McDowell, Kentucky, Bentley was first inspired to pursue music after hearing a young Keith Whitley singing lead on a Ralph Stanley recording. He soon spent decades developing his abilities as a singer and songwriter. Carl Bentley’s self-titled debut release is a reflection of those talents.
This project is an even mix between old and new. The opening track, These Old Blues, is a faithful interpretation of the Larry Sparks chestnut, and features first rate instrumental performances from Clay Hess on banjo, Rick Hayes on mandolin, guitar and bass, and Tim Crouch on fiddle.
Half of the material on this recording comes from Carl Bentley himself. Trains Don’t Run Here Anymore and Closing Mainstreet Down both tell reminiscent tales with a sense of yearning for the days gone by. The former tells of the decline of the railroad in Bentley’s hometown, while the latter talks of small mom and pop stores being king before being overtaken by corporate retail chains.
Where The Sun Never Shines is a song detailing the tough, dangerous job of coal mining, while God Bless a Soldier speaks of the freedoms for which those in the military fight. The former features excellent vocal harmony from Bentley and Ronnie Stewart.
Several tracks go deep into the traditional bluegrass sound. Tennessee Truck Driving Man was written by Ralph Stanley and first recorded by him on his 1981 album, The Stanley Sound Today. Gonna Catch a Train, written by Eddie Hamilton, and Pike County Jail by Bentley, are both in this category as well.
Carl Bentley has made a promising debut. While his singing and traditional cover material is good, Bentley’s songwriting is arguably his greatest strength. His original works consist of well-written narratives combined with memorable melodies. It’s by far the greatest aspect of this release, one that Bentley will hopefully lean more into on future projects.