The early verdict on Bentley is a big thumbs up. The lead-off song and first single from "Modern Day Drifter," the Waylon-sounding "Lot of Leavin' Left to Do," is moving up the charts.
And Bentley's sophomore album, once again produced by Brett Beavers, has a lot of solid songs among the 11 ranging from bluegrass to honky tonkers to ballads in a contemporary sounding album that is squarely country.
"I didn't feel too much pressure," says Bentley on his cellphone from Bloomington, Ind., a day after being on the Today show in Nashville with anchor Katie Couric.
"We had a good thing going the first time around. I trusted myself the first time. This is what we do. We took a chance the first time around with me writing most of the songs and producing with Brett. We didn't want to change things."
"I think the label trusted us to do our thing and they stay out of the studio," he says.
While some musicians really plan out what they intend to do, that modus operandi doesn't seem to suit this road warrior very much.
"Some people sit around and make their goals," says Bentley. "I don't. We concentrate on being on the road and concentrate on playing night after night. We concentrate on playing the smaller bars and clubs and really playing places you could connect on a personal level."
Caught onstage in early April in Nashville at a very packed Third and Lindsley during the Tin Pan South week shows, Bentley lives up to his words. He clearly exudes charisma and a sense of confidence - even while sitting down and playing acoustic guitar during a guitar pull type of show with Jedd Hughes and two other singers.
"I don't have to overthink making a record. I don't mean to say I don't think about it...In the beginning of the year (2004), I said we're going to take off Sept. 1 to 10th to make a record. I wrote songs on the road. My producer plays a large role. He came out here a lot on the road writing."
"He came out and wrote stuff on the bus and a lot of songs on this record," says Bentley of Beavers.
When asked about their style of writing together, Bentley says, there is "no really set way. We get a couple of guitars out and start banging and see what they can give us that day. We were kind of doing everything together. We did not have a set formula."
"We didn't mess around," Bentley says. "We had a lot of repeat players. I really liked my first record. I just wanted to take it somewhere a little stronger maybe in songs and content and production wise."
"Production-wise, maybe go for a meatier record...keeping the best elements of a traditional country record. I make records that I would like to buy, that I would like to drink a beer to."
Alluding to Shania Twain, "I don't have the time to go to New Zealand (or) Canada to make a record," he says.
Beavers and Bentley seem to be on the same wavelength.
"I had a real specific plan for the second record," says Beavers on his cell from Plymouth, Mass., where he will play that night with Lee Ann Womack. "Dierks and I knew we didn't (want to) change any of the combinations that we had in place for the first record...I didn't want to change the combination of the same players, the same engineer, the same studio."
"On the flip side, I made a concerted effort to take the material to the next level. It was important to me that (Bentley) had a little more meat in this record. He was known for the fun rocking songs, and he had another side, and it was finally time to show that."
"I did not want to stay on the level as 'What Was I Thinkin'," he says, referring to Bentley's big hit from the first album.
Bentley, 29, hails from Phoenix. "My dad listened to a lot of country music so I listened to it when I was with him. I didn't personally listen until when I listened to Hank Jr., and that did it for me."
The song was "Man to Man," which Bentley describes as his "favorite Hank Jr. song. I was listening to a bunch of rock songs, and a friend of mine said, 'you got to listen to this song'. It changed everything for me."
For Bentley, he connected with Williams at a time when he was "17, drinking your first beer, and a guy like Hank Jr. sings with such bravado."
Bentley wasn't really doing a lot of music himself, playing with friends in a garage band. "I always played guitar. I started playing electric guitar when I was 13. I'm not a great guitar player, but I do play guitar."
"We had a piano in the house. I always said that it was a picture holder. Not really to play. I had an older sister who was very into music, and she got me into music."