Dierks Bentley never had a recording experience quite like the one he encountered while making his ninth album, The Mountain. Since the whole project was inspired by the beauty of Colorado, it only made sense for Bentley to venture far from Nashville's Music Row, where most country albums are churned out, and actually record it in a venue called Studio in the Clouds just outside of Telluride, where the country star keeps a vacation home.

  The solar-powered studio lived up to its evocative name. "It's in the San Juan Mountains overlooking views for days," Bentley tells Billboard.

  But when he first arrived, the singer-songwriter was greeted by the discomfiting sight of studio owner Alan Bradbury "carving up an elk using a table saw. He had bits of flesh all over him" and his wolf hybrid dog was "protecting the carcass," Bentley vividly recalls with a laugh. He describes Bradbury as "a total mountain man" on the outside. "But then you come in [his studio] and he's all about the essential oils, and the vibes and the pot brownies."

  Bentley was so enamored by this "great, gentle spirit" and his beautiful facility that he enlisted Bradbury - also a musician - to sing background vocals on a couple of the concept album's tracks. He also recruited pals - and current Mountain High Tour openers - Brothers Osborne to play on the set's second single, "Burning Man." (currently #8 on Billboard's Country Music chart). Brandi Carlile adds vocals to the bluegrass-influenced album track "Travelin' Light." And Sam Bush lends his mandolin skills to a pair of tracks.

  The album recording session was actually the second time Bentley has taken a group of musicians to Colorado to work on the project. At its genesis last summer, he brought a herd of top Nashville songwriters to Telluride to write songs for the album, hoping they'd be inspired by their surroundings.
  It worked. Most of its eventual 13 tracks came out of those sessions, including an obvious one titled "Goodbye In Telluride." Bentley had a hand in writing 10 of those tracks, including the project's hit lead single, "Woman, Amen," which made it to #3 on the Country Airplay chart and #8 on Hot Country Songs.

  While many of Bentley's biggest career smashes have been the kind of anthems that get crowds fired up in concert, The Mountain is a bit heavier, more contemplative and - surprise - completely devoid of ditties. Yet it is not without its joyful moments, and a positive spirit imbues the tracks.

  With plenty of fun, older songs like Drunk on a Plane, 5-1-5-0, What Was I Thinkin' and Somewhere On A Beach already populating his live set, Bentley felt he could take a chance on this album by focusing on creating a cohesive, themed set without having to worry about including any new party anthems.
  "I want to take fans to that place where you move beyond fun into that next thing of just feeling so alive," he explains of his potentially risky creative decision. "I can just see people out in the lawn seats listening to something like 'You Can't Bring Me Down' or 'Living' and [they feel] joy, like I'm hitting them on a deeper level."

  At a Nashville listening party for the album in May, Bentley joked about the fact that when he turned the completed album in to the head of his record label, Universal Music Group Nashville chairman/CEO Mike Dungan, he didn't hear back from the executive for a month. In a later conversation he said he got "blunt and very honest" feedback from Dungan about the project, but also plenty of support and encouragement.

  Now 15 years into his recording career - all of it spent on Universal's Capitol Records Nashville imprint - the happily married father of three says his focus these days is on his own musical evolution.