It would be nice if some of the titular burn could be felt on Dierks Bentley's fourth studio album, but Feel That Fire is an atypically cautious, calculated affair from one of Nashville's best singer/songwriters of the 2000s. Part of Bentley's appeal lies in his casual display of his deep roots, how he built upon Waylon and Merle without ever seeming overly indebted by their legacy; it made him sound grounded, while his sentiments and crisp, clean sound made him seem modern. Bentley doesn't abandon this synthesis on Feel That Fire but he does streamline and simplify it, reducing it to its basics in an attempt to fashion a deliberate crossover ploy. The ragged country elements are reined in and the fist-pumping guitars are revved up, all in an attempt to push Bentley beyond the country charts and into some kind of heartland rock crossover. This isn't a huge leap for Bentley, who has never been a roughneck, but sliding toward this big arena-country sound turns his humble guy-next-door voice and persona into something bland, verging on the anonymous. Whenever Bentley breaks free from this pop straitjacket he sounds as inventive and vigorous as he did his previous three albums and, tellingly, they all happen when he gets back to his roots: when he teams up for a duet with Patty Griffin on "Beautiful World," when he co-writes with Rodney Crowell on "Pray," and, especially, when he teams up with Ronnie McCoury and his band for a rampaging, intoxicating bluegrass closer, "Last Call." These are full-blooded, substantive songs, the kind that linger in the memory -- the kind Bentley often does, only not so much here.
Feel That Fire Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine