Dierks Bentley cannot leave well enough alone. His reputation as a rocker with roots has apparently given way to an even more appealing kind of country than on his first three studio albums. You can still feel that energy here, on his fourth, "Feel That Fire," but the lyrics are a little more mature and the tunes a bit honky-tonkier. You can still get that distinctive growl, but there's not an ounce of that haven't-I-heard-this-before déjà vu.
The segue from his long list of top tens to "Feel That Fire" allows listeners to hear the well-crafted stories reveling in his modern bluegrass sound. Bentley wrote all but two of the 12 tracks and recorded the album with a mix of studio musicians and members of his road band. All great pickers, and all deeply entrenched in the guts of good country music.
In what would otherwise be just more perfunctory aggressive tunes like "Little Heartwrecker," "Here She Comes, Here We Go" and first single "Feel That Fire," the banjo, pedal steel and lap steel give these rockers a bona fide Nashville sound. And "Sideways" shines with what the liner notes call "gang vocals" from Bentley's friends, industry folks and even the head of his label, Mike Dungan.
The ballads on the second half of the album pair Bentley's road-ready vocals with sparse arrangements, with lyrical subtleties that cover new ground. As on the loping and earnestly hopeful duet with Americana singer/songwriter Patti Griffin "Beautiful World." Bentley uses those three minutes to defend this world as just right, as opposed to accepting its demons, tears, fears and ugliness as untenable. Then the slow-moving acoustic and introspective "Pray" takes an honest look at the regrets of a volatile fling.
If any song on the album reveals the genuine side of Bentley, it has to be "Better Believer." He sings, "When my life's going like I want/God becomes an afterthought/And I start trying to build my heaven here." The song is built around the idea that blessings should belong only to believers. But because Bentley has crafted this whole album the way he crafts each song—carefully, deeply and with conviction—it would seem his beliefs are solid.