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Dierks Bentley

Feel That Fire – 2009 (Capitol Nashville)

Reviewed by Rick Cornell

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CDs by Dierks Bentley

Like it or not, music is a business. And when an artist as vital to the country world (so-called commercial country and beyond) as Dierks Bentley releases a new record, you can be sure that somewhere, someone in a suit is looking at graphs. So, in that unholy spirit, let's look at "Feel That Fire" in those terms. If it were a pie chart, it'd be dominated by two equally big old slices, one labeled Rockers and one labeled Ballads. The songs making up the former never fail to work up a sweat, with the good-timing Sideways and the bad-timing Little Heartwrecker the standouts. A couple others, however, are just barely saved from the ranks of the generic thanks to Bentley's rich and, for lack of a better term, decidedly masculine, voice as well as bursts of banjo and pedal steel.

The ballads, which offer the space that Bentley's vocals deserve, are more satisfying as a group. Most notable is Beautiful World, a song clinging to optimisim - in other words, a song true to its time. And, with supporting vocals from Patty Griffin, it's flat-out gorgeous.

Remaining on the chart are two slivers fighting the good fight not to be overshadowed by those two big slices, a skinny pair that represents the album's highlights. Better Believer carries a spiritual message even as its sound battles an identity crisis. It's a ballad that takes sidelong glances at the rockers, ultimately using its thumped-up musical energy more wisely than its busier brethren. As a result, it's the catchiest cut here.

Best of all is that final small slice, Last Call, a fiesty bluegrass number written by and featuring Ronnie McCoury (McCoury originally recorded it on his solo album "Heartbreak Town"), and the "Fire" track probably least likely to get airplay. Last Call is not the best merely because it's the most trad-sounding. It also feels the most natural, and, if the post-song jocularity is any indication, it was the most fun to record. Most importantly, it makes you want to snatch up all the music-biz paperwork you can find and make a bonfire to provide light for the inmates to take over the asylum.