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Dierks Bentley goes free and easy towards the top

Tsongas Arena, Lowell, Mass., December 6, 2007

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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No one should have been the least bit surprised that Dierks Bentley seemed in a great mood Thursday night.

The day, however, may not have started off ideally because Bentley had to catch a 6 a.m. flight from Houston to Boston to make the show. But when he landed in Beantown, he got great news - he had been nominated for four Grammys.

A typically charismatic, congenial performer was even more so in a truly excellent display of showmanship without being over the top and musicianship.

Bentley is three albums into a career that has spawned three number ones already from his latest disc, "Long Trip Alone," and now a headlining tour of bigger venues.

Bentley seems quite comfortable in his skin as a performer, bounding all around the stage with two side ramps leading to landings where he was a frequent visitor.

And he was an exceedingly warm performer as well. He called out to a fan from Texas who came up on the same flight as he did to make the show. He also made mention of a soldier he met in the audience who recently returned from Iraq. As a result, he asked for a U.S. Marine Corps shirt from someone in the crowd near where he was sitting (at this point of the show, Bentley went to a small stage in the crowd, which proved to be a great idea to connect with the audience even further). Another fan tossed him a U.S. Coast Guard shirt, leading Bentley to joke, "One if by land, two if by sea." In other words, this was not a canned, paint-by-the numbers performance.

What mattered the most was that Bentley had a bunch of high quality songs during his 1 3/4-hour show, starting with his number one hit of a few weeks ago "Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)" to his fun, catchy "What Was I Thinkin'"

He also played several bluegrass songs with his backing quartet, which was a nice touch. And he did keep it country with modern touches as one band member played banjo and pedal steel throughout.

Based on this fine night out, Bentley's path may be free and easy to stardom. He was that good.

Jack Ingram opened with a set of pleasing songs, but in contrast to Bentley, his did not quite gel as much. The songs were catchy, but did not cut as wide a musical swath as Bentley. Nor did Ingram exhibit the comfort level as a performer.