By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Right now, though, the most interesting thing about Aldean is that Eric Church has it out for him. "Ya sing about Johnny Cash/The Man in Black woulda whipped your ass," Church scolds, in a song castigating "one-hit wonders," plus your usual feisty clichés about how Waylon wouldn't've done it that way. That's "Lotta Boot Left to Fill," one of several slide-strewn chip-on-shoulder shit-kickers on Carolina's first half; halfway through the album, in "Smoke a Little Smoke," the singer pulls out his stash, the guitars do a hefty trailer-park vamp, and you wonder why this usually apolitical rebel thinks we need "a little more right and a little less left." The album opens loud, with Church imbibing and overtiming himself to death; he hangs onto 16 as long as he can in "Young & Wild," and for "Where She Told Me to Go," hell is a bachelor's apartment with faulty plumbing and lousy TV reception. On the record's subpar second half, he mushes out—a dame inevitably saves his hard head from hitting rock-bottom, but not from falling short of his '06 debut. There's still a jaunty "Twist and Shout" swipe, though. And a lush and elongated guitar solo at the end.
Dierks Bentley's "Little Heartwrecker" is more or less the same song as Church's "Hell on the Heart": She's a hottie, so prepare to get burned. And ramblin' Arizonan Lollapaloozer Dierks—by consensus, the hunkiest of these hunks, give or take Aussie Urban, and the only other one not born in Dixie—is going through motions of his own on Feel the Fire. As with Urban, slacker nonchalance is part of what makes him sexy. But four albums in, his rockgrass roadster is stuck in the muck. There's one great track ("I Can't Forget Her," made spacious with spooky spaghetti-western guitars and Del Rio desert sand blowing around), a couple good ones at the beginning (some fugitive funk with motorcycle sounds and "space bass," some blatant pro-Velvet Rope line-dance fodder), and lots of indistinctive competence.
Which might be enough: If you need a little help, Dierks is here to tell you that, babe, there ain't a button he can't reach. Maybe even the ones in your sewing kit on that really high shelf. But can he bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan?
Can any of these guys? Does it matter?