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CDs: Dierks Bentley, Von Bondies

February 02, 2009|Randy Lewis; August Brown

Dierks Bentley

"Feel That Fire"

(Capitol Nashville)

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Ever since his 2003 breakthrough hit "What Was I Thinkin'," Dierks Bentley has been trying to convince us that he's a devil-may-care bad boy. The Phoenix-born singer and songwriter is at it again here in several of the new songs on "Feel That Fire," his fourth studio collection. Trouble is, there's never been an ounce of menace in his boy-next-door vocals, so there's a credibility gap in those performances, no matter how catchy they are.

He paints himself as king of the one-night stand in "Life on the Run," plays a party-hearty barfly in "Sideways" and stands in awe of his female counterpart in the title song. He also takes on the role of the ready-and-willing love god in "I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes," before revealing his deep commitment to his spiritual nature in "Better Believer" and "Pray."

Bentley's best face this time out is the bluegrass guise he adopts for Ronnie McCoury's "Last Call," an acoustic rave-up salute to the healing power of the honky-tonk, with McCoury and his mountain-music-making pals along for the alcohol-fueled ride.

Randy Lewis

Von Bondies strike back

The Von Bondies

"Love Hate and Then There's You"

(Majordomo Records)

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There are five things that have held the Von Bondies back from truly capitalizing on the band's pop-savvy garage swagger: the fingers on Jack White's punching fist. After Bondies singer Jason Stollsteimer was on the losing end of a nasty scuffle with White in 2004, the band never really recovered in the public eye. Which is a bit of a shame, because although its latest album, "Love Hate and Then There's You," is a stereotypical dilution of the Stooges/MC5 canon, there are a few unexpectedly tight tunes that hit as hard as, well, a sock in eye.

The album owes as much to producer Butch Walker's immaculate pop ear as any Bondie, and the immediacy of cuts such as "21st Birthday" and "Blame Game" proves that good rock music usually benefits from expert second opinions.

The album isn't quite dangerous enough for the committed El Camino and drainpipe-jeans set though. And this is a terrible time to be making a comeback album.

"Love" likely won't beat those odds.


-- August Brown

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