December 14, 2011 12:00 PM

Four days after a gunman shot Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the head and killed six people outside a Tucson-area supermarket, Dierks Bentley sat down for a writing session in Nashville, still reeling from the violence in his home state. “It was so senseless,” says the Phoenix native. “There was a need on my part to find some way to heal.”

Bentley and cowriters Brett Beavers and Dan Wilson didn’t set out to write a song about the tragedy, let alone craft a patriotic anthem. “There was no agenda,” Bentley says. In fact, as someone mumbled a phrase about a “place we all call home,” they proceeded with a degree of caution. “We all knew we had bitten off a big piece when we started getting a patriotic theme going,” Bentley says. “Those are hard songs to write, and I didn’t want to do anything overt or heavy-handed.”

The result is both a love letter to and a lyrical history of America. “Every time I’m on an airplane, I think about how big our country is and how each of those millions of houses is home to someone, and when I’m on the road, I’m the guy who pulls over to read the historical markers,” he says. “It’s an amazing story, our country. A friend from Ireland once said to me that America is not just a place, it’s an idea. People see our flag and think about the freedoms we have. Everyone wants what we have.”

With so much economic strife, these are challenging times, he says. “A lot of people are hurting, so I want this to be a song of unity, of inspiration. I hope it leaves people believing there are better days ahead.”

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