Dierks Bentley, Feel That Fire

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February 2, 2009

dierks-bentleyDierks Bentley
Feel That Fire

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In his iconic 1985 hit, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,” George Jones echoed the concerns of many when he wondered (or more honestly, worried) how the next generation of country singers would compare to the likes of Waylon and Willie. “Who’s gonna give their heart and soul to get to me and you?” he asked, with the sound of a lonesome whistle serving as his only answer. Soon, the neotrad movement remodeled Music Row, allaying the fears of country’s elders momentarily.

The prevailing narrative in Nashville usually centers around how the new country crop treats the town’s long-held customs. In the grand Southern tradition, the young’uns are expected to be faithful: to their mamas, to their Maker and to the music that laid the legacy for the format.

Dierks Bentley’s debut, then, was cool comfort for traditionalists, who reveled in his back-to-basics approach. Even as he steered towards a more rock-tinged tone and sheered off his beloved curls (a downer for all those smitten dames), the hosannas rang high from all corners. On Feel That Fire, though, Bentley seems to finally buckle under the weight of contemporary expectations. Always at the mercy of his raw materials, he’s saddled himself with a bushel basket of songs that briefly scratch the surface of his talent.The first flickers of Feel That Fire seem like warmed-over wares. Cited as the premier road warrior in country, Bentley wears out the highways-and-byways theme early.  A pair of revved-up raves, “Life on the Run” and “Sideways,” are the same tame rebel-rousers that haunted his three previous releases.

A go-to guy for stunted romantics, Bentley is equally known for pressed-flesh paeans often accompanied by half-naked video clips. (In a woo-the-women industry, it doesn’t take the wisdom of Solomon to see the smarts in his semi-nude strategy.) Bentley’s new entry into that erogenous zone is “I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes,” a promise of pre-coital bliss that’s both lustful and lovely. The frisky Conway-esque tune is a knockoff of his own “Come a Little Closer,” though, outlining Bentley’s lack of fail-safe ideas here.

The second half of Feel That Fire is a sort-of rebirth for the prodigal son, aided in his journey by a host of collaborators. A luminous lighthouse in a pitch-black night, Patty Griffin’s guileful voice serves as the perfect accent of hope on “Beautiful World.” The reconversion continues with a Rodney Crowell beauty (“Pray”) and a Ronnie McCoury cameo (“Last Call”, an acoustic honky-tonk hoe-down). When the guidance isn’t secular, it’s spiritual. Ever-ready to dodge any undue praise, Bentley gives a soft-hearted turn on the tender valentine to God, “Better Believer.”

Bentley remains a torchbearer for twang; his devotion to the genre’s tradition rivals that of any country star. Still, his idols were inventive and innovative in a way that’s oft-absent on Feel That Fire. Recently-passed literary legend John Updike once said, “Once you begin a gesture, it’s fatal not to go through it.”  Fancy code for a more-country phrase, “dance with the one that brung ya,” and Bentley is due for a revival of the fresh spirit that defined his music in the first place. Then, and only then, can he celebrate a true homecoming.

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24 Comments so far

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  1. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    I was really looking forward to this album, but am sorely disappointed in it. I saw the warning signs on his last project, but this one is just not very good at all.

  2. GailNo Gravatar says:

    I agree, the first 4 or 5 songs I listened to were not working for me.

  3. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Oh yes, awesome that you would quote John Updike!

  4. AaronNo Gravatar says:

    Interesting review. I heard the entire thing on XM’s Highway Shortcuts and I liked it! Though, I do think 3 stars is a fare review. But it’s not as bad as you say it is Leann. Well that’s just my opinion. I did like it overall.

  5. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Aaron, if an album gets a three-star review from me, I’m not really recommending it. So, I essentially agree with the rating here too. I just got nothing from it, though not every moment is bad.

  6. bobbyNo Gravatar says:

    Just curious Leeann, what were the warning signs you noticed from his last album compared to his two albums? I haven’t listened to the first two albums. I really liked the last one, but it seemed different in style from the singles at least from the first two. Would you recomend the self titled one, or Modern Day Drifter more?

  7. dudleyNo Gravatar says:

    Honestly, I would be even harsher than Blake. Dierks’ vocals are, outside of “Last Call,” lifeless to the point where I wonder if he will ever excel as a studio artist the way he does as a live performer. The guitar work on the album is good, but that only underscores the blandness of the vocal (and, for the most part, the blandness of the melodies and lyrics). Keith Urban could have elevated songs like “Life on the Run” and “Sideways” with his interpretive skill, but the songs still represent nothing distinctive. Overall, the album feels like an effort to cater to what a bunch of suits assume country radio’s core demo wants to hear. It’s the Blake Shelton heartthrob-plus strategy for Startin’ Fires, and just as it hasn’t served Blake well in sales for his current album (at least so far), I think it won’t serve Dierks well, either.

    That said, Patty Griffin sounds wonderful on “Beautiful World” and Ronnie McCoury brings some much needed spark to the album via “Last Call.” Those two songs are by far the album standouts.

    Bobby: I’m not Leeann, but one thing that stood out to me about Long Trip Alone was its more polished sound, something that seemed to be a concession to contemporary country. At the time, I thought that was a mistake because Dierks, as a road warrior, fares better when his songs sound raw and spontaneous. Unfortunately, the sound of Feel That Fire often feels even more labored, and relies on very loud guitars for punch.

  8. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Dudley beat me to it, but said everything just as I would, though possibly better. Those are exactly my feelings right down to the Shelton Startin’ Fires blandness comparison and what was wrong with Long Trip Alone.

  9. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Bobby, I’d recommend both the self titled and Modern Day Drifter albums, modern Day Drifter taking the slight edge.

  10. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar says:

    The Bentley album will likely be the disappointment of the year. I actually believed that Long Trip Alone was a step forward in terms of artistic value. The improvements were in the writing, and I truly felt that it would start his ascendancy into superstardom. In an article with Ken Tucker last month, the disappointed sales of that album (attributed to its more serious tone) were noted, and I’m sure that record label handlers nudged him in a more rockin’, ready-for-fun direction this time around.

    More than most any Nashville star, Bentley rises and falls with the level of his material. For being such a beacon of change (hence his appearances at Bonnaroo, Lollapolooza and other decidely un-country venues), he sounds middle-of-the-pack here and the songwriting has slipped a notch. Blake Shelton, Billy Currington, Eric Church, Jake Owen…very few casual fans can tell a difference, and Bentley seems willing to sound just like them. He’ll never possess the finest voice, but selecting (and writing) songs to support his identity is key. “What Was I Thinkin”,” “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do” and “Free and Easy” are a few of the best radio singles in the decade (I liked Long Trip Alone’s title cut, too), but there’s nothing with that sense of self (and spirit) on Feel That Fire. Those were all uptempo, positive songs which held substance, so the problem doesn’t seem to be positioning. It seems to be the lack of fresh ideas that’s the hindrance.

    I still enjoy the two cuts that dudley mentioned. The whole album is competent (hence the three stars), but never rises above that to try and be something great.

  11. Lynn DouglasNo Gravatar says:

    In light of my recent post, I’m bummed. It sounds like he’s turning into Blake Shelton. I love Blake live, but his last album was a huge disappointment. Why can’t he transfer the same passion, energy and personality onto his album? Very frustrating.

  12. CFNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for the review. Based on all these reviews, I’m thinking I will be disappointed as well. “Feel That Fire” as a song is alright, but kinda reminds me of Jessica Simpson’s “Come On Over”, so it made me not like it as much.

  13. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    At any rate, it’s probably worth the discount price that it’s at today only (February 3) on Amazon for $3.99. Just scroll above to the review to grab it…

  14. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    I agree with Blake that the lyrics had matured a bit on Long Trip Alone, but I felt some of the melodies (the slow songs) ended up sounding like power balads, which was a step backwards for me.

  15. kenNo Gravatar says:

    Just listening to the new release right now and I seem to be enjoying it much better than most who have written about it on here.

    I reckon there’s loads of excellent song on this and quite an interesting variety of music too.

    At least when you listen to the backing you know it’s a country cd which is more than can be said for a lot of the drivel being released by other Nashville artists.

    Am glad I paid my money to download the cd today…and I didn’t get the bargain Amazon offer either!. For some reason if you live in the UK you can’t download music from the American Amazon version so had to buy it on ITunes.

  16. BradyNo Gravatar says:

    I gotta go with dudley’s assessment of this album. I had major apprehensions about the song selection due to the first single and comments made before it’s release, but I didn’t expect Dierks’ vocals to be so lifeless as well.

    I liked Long Trip Alone, especially the title cut, so I’m going with Blake’s take on that one.

  17. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    I never really took to “Long Trip Alone” or “Every Mile A Memory” either. I think I remember liking LTA when I first heard it, but it just didn’t stick.

  18. Jeremy DNo Gravatar says:

    Huge Disappointment! Has anyone ever heard his very first album ‘Dont Leave Me in Love?’ Dierks has taken a step back even in his songwriting abilities with this album. ” Dont Leave Me in Love” had some great real country songs that radio would never touch, but it got him the record deal with Capitol. Let Dierks be Dieks! Feel that Fire is not Dierks! I hope this not a permanate turn in the direction of his career. Sideways is a lame Paisley or Urban song just dont fit the guy who sang “What was i THinking.”

  19. dudleyNo Gravatar says:

    “The Bentley album will likely be the disappointment of the year.”
    It’s only the beginning of February, so I really hope you’re right and not speaking too soon, Blake. I can’t help but think about Lynn’s’ write-up about artists who have yet to tap their potential — she named Dierks and Carrie among them, and Josh Turner and Martina McBride were two others whose names came up in comments. All are either currently working on new albums or scheduled to release new albums in 2009. So yeah, I really hope Dierks’ album isn’t a sign of what is to come as far as potential-reaching. Though I’ve listened to eleven songs from Martina’s upcoming album and that one is a head-scratcher for me, too. *sigh*

    I do want to concede that my concerns notwithstanding, I thought Long Trip Alone had some pretty good moments. I didn’t care for the lead single at all, but “Free & Easy” and the title track were pretty good and I really liked “The Heaven I’m Headed To” (not so much musically but lyrically), “Band of Brothers” and “Prodigal Son’s Prayer.”

    “The Heaven I’m Headed To” was somewhat challenging lyrically, which is precisely why I find “Better Believer” on the new album especially disappointing. The first verse of “Better Believer” starts so interestingly by talking about how a person’s faith tends to come in sharpest relief in times of trouble whereas when things are good, people tend to take their faith for granted, acting as if they can build their heaven on earth. But then the chorus is basically just a superficial admonishment about being grateful. Meh. I don’t mean to introduce a faith debate here — I’m just trying to say that I think there is a kernel of a really rich idea within the first verse of “Better Believer” and I wish Dierks had explored it in greater depth throughout the rest of the song. I don’t know or care whether I would have agreed with what he said if he had, but the song feels very limp after the first verse.

    ““Feel That Fire” as a song is alright, but kinda reminds me of Jessica Simpson’s “Come On Over”, so it made me not like it as much.”

    ACK! I hadn’t thought of that before, but great catch, CF!

  20. Matt B.No Gravatar says:

    I do like this record but it does seem as if Dierks is a bit ‘lazy’ vocally on the record (even though the backing band never sounds unspirited).

  21. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar says:

    What can I say? I choose to be optimistic about 2009.

    Kidding aside, Bentley is one of my favorite mainstream acts. If other artists stumble this year, I’m at least half-expecting them to fall. I had a bad feeling McBride’s album would be more of the “turn that frown upside down” variety (I’m assuming on this particular point—I have yet to hear it.). It further amplifies my amazement when Loveless, Yearwood or Womack releases a record and I’m in awe of how they found such quality songs and how other artists don’t.

    When you’re in control of the writing (like Bentley), then you must put a premium on putting a new twist on an old groove. The whole album is competent (and fairly well-made), and the songs aren’t bad, but just not as original or smart as his best.

  22. janet mNo Gravatar says:

    Feel That Fire is spawning a lot of blazing clichés this week, and all of them are right! This is one hot CD that is going to go places – read that up! Dierks has said he wanted to stay in the moment, as well as have fun. He’s done it with style and grace. Style with the Warren Brothers in the title cut, grace with the incomparable Patti Griffin in Beautiful World, Better Believer, co-written with Rivers Rutherford, and Pray, written with Rodney Crowell. For fun you can’t beat Sideways and Here She Comes. My favorite today is I Wanna Close Your Eyes, but tomorrow it may change to that motorcycle revving Life on the Run with Mike McCready (Pearl Jam). You may remember McCready’s previous contribution with Bentley on Distant Shore on his first CD. Feel that Fire? You bet.

  23. [...] I’d be lying if I told you the critics were lovin’ all over this one, but most have noted the presence of at least a few good tracks, and you can’t beat this price on a new release. Act quick, though, because the discount will only be active tonight (in the future, we’ll try to let you know about these one-day deals sooner). Read Blake Boldt’s review of the album here. [...]

  24. TravisNo Gravatar says:

    HUGE Dierks fan here. First I have to say that not only do most of the reviews anger me, but actually I take the criticism a bit offensive on behalf of Dierks. I’ll admit I’d be lying if I said ‘Feel That Fire’ was my favorite album of the 4…5 including his self-released. There were songs on the new record like, “I Can’t Forget Her” that I loved. The instrumentation put into that track is like nothing else. But songs like “Feel that Fire” just didn’t sound like HIM.
    I don’t agree with those of you who say the album is “the disappointment of the year” or that it’s worth $3.99.
    I’d much rather here a beer drinkin’ song like ‘Sideways’ than the other garbage I hear now days. I’m SO tired of hearing pop country, and boy band country music! I’m talking about bands like, Gloriana, Darius Rucker’s “It Won’t Be Like this for Long,” Jake Owens, and well, the list goes on. All these ‘boys’ want to do is sing about love. And how many wedding songs and songs about artist’s kids have been put out on country radio over the past couple years? And then there are Brad Paisley, Toby Keith, and Kenny Chesney who seem to keep writing the same songs over and over. Enough already!! What happened to honky tonk, outlaw music…Waylon music. REAL MEN music.
    Regardless of the new record, THANK GOD FOR DIERKS BENTLEY, because when George Strait, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt, Marty Stuart, and few others are gone…well Dierks will be little of what country music we still have around. Man country music just won’t be country anymore!

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