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Bentley promises album experience at Sunday concert

September 7, 2016 GMT

If you want to get Dierks Bentley going, ask him to name a few favorite albums from his childhood.

The first record the country superstar ever owned was Waylon Jennings’ “Good Ol’ Boys” from the “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show, and through his teens, the Arizona native accumulated a vast collection of vinyl that included Hank Williams Jr.’s “Lone Wolf,” Van Halen’s 1978 debut album, and just about everything produced by Alan Jackson, Marty Stuart and Clint Black.

So while writing his latest CD, “Black,” Bentley said he wanted to pay homage to the golden days of vinyl by creating an old-fashioned concept album. “Black” debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard charts in May and was reissued last month on vinyl. And when Bentley returns to Chula Vista’s Sleep Train Amphitheatre on Sunday to introduce “Black” to local fans, he promises a concert that unspools like a concept album.

Now 40 and coming off one of the biggest hits of his career (the comic breakup ditty “Somewhere on a Beach”), Bentley said he spent two years developing the ideas, songs and style of “Black.” Since his last record, 2014’s “Riser,” was intensely personal, he opted this time for a fictional story about the dawn and decline of a troubled relationship.

“I wanted ‘Black’ to be like a vinyl record with an A-side and a B-side that tells a whole story about young love and ups and downs,” he said, adding that while the record is named for his wife of 11 years, Cassidy (her maiden name is Black), their marriage is doing just fine.

Bentley said the album opens with the single “Black,” a song about attraction, followed by the desperation-themed “Pick Up,” then moves into “I’ll Be the Moon,” which deals with obsession. There’s the breakup numbers, songs that deal with regret and self-doubt, and finally learning and self-acceptance.

The final number, the “appreciate-what-you-have-before-it’s-lost” song “Can’t Be Replaced,” is Bentley’s favorite song and the most personal. One verse is devoted to his late dog Jake, a 15-year-old Spitz who was with him from the beginning of his career and through his marriage in 2005 and the birth of his three children, Evie, Jordan and Knox.

To carry on the storytelling thread, four of the songs from the album were turned into black-and-white film-style music videos that follow the messy trail of an extramarital affair. Film is also a big part of this summer’s “Somewhere on a Beach” tour, which he calls a “big looks, big video” experience. Throughout the show, the audience will see behind-the-scenes footage of what went into the making of the album and the tour.

“It’s not just a turn-on-the-video-screens show, it’s all woven together like an album so you leave feeling a certain way,” he said.

Bentley and his family vacation every year in Pacific Beach. His favorite food hangouts are the La Jolla Cheese Shop and Taco Surf in Mission Beach, then he works off those calories at P.B.’s San Diego Athletics.

Bentley promises San Diego concert-goers a good time, but because this tour stop will land on Sept. 11, he’s planning a moment in the show to honor 9/11 victims as well as those who’ve “served and sacrificed.”

Bentley is riding high this summer, with the top-grossing tour of his career and wide critical acclaim. On Aug. 31, Bentley earned four CMA Award nominations, including Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year for “Black.” Last month, he was also praised by Esquire Magazine in a profile that called him “country music’s most relatable star.”

Although this interview took place before the CMA announcement, Bentley reflected on past achievements as well as what really matters most.

“It’s good to have the respect of your peers and the critics,” he said, “but I’m always looking for that response from fans and live show to see how my music is interacting with their lives.”