By Vernell Hackett
NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - If the single "Home" is the cornerstone of Dierks Bentley's latest album of the same name, then the song "Thinking of You" is the CD's hearth because the fire within it warms both body and soul.
Bentley wrote the song for his 3-year-old daughter, Evie, who sings on the track of the new album that went on sale on Tuesday.
"I'm not someone to put their kid on their album," Bentley, the father of two daughters, told Reuters in an interview. "I got this email on my birthday when I was out on the road and it was Evie singing that song back to me. It just about broke my heart. It was the best and worst birthday present ever.
"It's so real and honest and I just couldn't take it off the track once I heard it. You know in country music there are sad songs about drinking and love gone wrong but there's another whole level of sad when you're missing your daughter. That's a whole range of emotion there I'd never felt before."
The 36-year-old Bentley's passion shows through whether he is singing about his daughter or a relationship ready to leap to the next level, or delivering fun-loving tunes like the new album's first single, "Am I The Only One?"
The singer's ninth album follows his highly successful offering "Up on the Ridge" that landed Bentley three Grammy nominations last year, including for Best Country Album. All told, Bentley has had eight No. 1 singles, including "Feel That Fire" and "Sideways."
He said "Up on the Ridge" gave him a chance to stretch out.
"My fans allowed me to experiment and do things a little different, and I still think the record opened the landscape creatively for me," Bentley said.
"With 'Home' I was trying to make a country record that was really representative of me, what I do in country music that is unique. There are certain things I'm known for, like the party songs and the fun songs, and there are songs on this record that are in the same vein, like 'Tip it on Back' and 'Come a Little Closer.' Then there is new ground for me, like 'Thinking of You' and 'When You Gonna Come Around.'"
The lyrics on the title tune can be interpreted in many ways, which is what the Arizona-born singer wanted.
"Home for me can be coming back to Nashville after I've been on the road. But for soldiers it's seeing that shore for the first time after a year or more in a foreign country," he said.
"People who hear it will interpret it according to what is going on in their life at the moment. Some of the most touching stories I hear are from the soldiers who come up to me and talk about what it's like to be flying back to the States and seeing that piece of land for the first time."
Written with Dan Wilson and Brett Beavers, Bentley gave substantial credit to his co-writers.
As Bentley tells it, the three were working on a lyric when he was called away by his wife asking for help starting her car. When he returned, Wilson and Beavers had stopped working on the other song and come up with a melody for the verse of "Home," intending it to be about America or a place everyone calls home.
"When I'm on tour and hanging out with people I see that there is a lot more in common among us than we might think. So we thought we could write a song about that and that it might be a really interesting take on a patriotic song," Bentley said.
The album's first single, "Am I The Only One," about a guy ready to head out on a Friday night who cannot find any of his buddies to party with him, might be more typical for Bentley. But his duet with Karen Fairchild of the band Little Big Town on "When You Gonna Come Around," broke new ground.
The sexy tune pairs Bentley's rough edge with Fairchild's sultry vocals to convey the message that this is a relationship ready for the next step.
"I love Karen's voice," Bentley said. "Little Big Town is one of the most talented bands out there today. I saw her at a party in Nashville and asked if she'd come sing on this song and she said yes. A couple days later she came in and it turned out perfect."
Bentley is touring in the United States, then embarks on tours of Canada in late February and Australia in March. He resumes his "Country & Cold Cans" tour at Los Angeles' Nokia Theatre on April 13.
(Reporting By Vernell Hackett; Editing by Andrew Stern and Bob Tourtellotte)