My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Class of ’89 Album Review: Vince Gill – ‘When I Call Your Name’

whenicallyournameVince Gill was not a new artist in 1989, but it was the year that saw him make his big breakthrough and really established him as the major star he was to be through the 1990s.  He had spent several years signed to RCA, and had released three truncated albums of varying lengths, plus a number of singles which had received varying amounts of radio play, three becoming top 10 hits.  Much of Vince’s RCA output is still worth seeking out; I particularly like ‘The Way Back Home’, ‘Oh Carolina’, ‘Living The Way I  Do’, and ‘If It Weren’t For Him’, a duet with Rosanne Cash.  The production was not always quite right, though, in my opinion, and sometimes making his voice sound a little thin, especially on up-tempo material.  Sales however were not encouraging, and RCA’s lack of faith in Vince is reflected by the fact that none of his album releases were full-length. 

Everything changed when Vince changed labels, and moved to MCA.  When I Call Your Name, his first album for the label, released in November 1989,  was a modern classic which definitely still stands up today.  It was eventually certified double platinum.

Like many of the ‘Class of 89’, Vince Gill was a singer-songwriter, and he contributed seven of the ten tracks on this album.  They vary from good to great, and are allied to sympathetic production from Tony Brown, with whom Vince had played in Rodney Crowell’s band the Cherry Bombs in the early 80s.  Vince’s instrumental abilities are well-known, and he played acoustic and electric guitars and mandolin alongside a team of session musicians.  The music is never allowed to overwhelm the songs, but rather supports them to best effect.

The break with the past was not complete; opening track and leadoff single ‘Never Alone’, had been written by Vince with Rosanne Cash back in 1984, and one suspects it had previously been recorded for RCA but never released.  It certainly sounds very similar to his material from that period, and was only a modest success, reaching #22 on Billboard.  It is a good enough song, but probably my least favorite track on this album.  The move to MCA then began to pay off as Vince was teamed with labelmate Reba McEntire on an engaging western swing tribute to their fellow home state, ‘Oklahoma Swing’, which was released as a single.  It may come as a slight surprise that it only reached #13.

Vince’s real breakthrough came when the album’s title track was released as a single.  The devastating sadness of Vince’s delivery of ‘When I Call Your Name’, supported by Patty Loveless’ harmonies, makes this still one of his finest recordings, perfectly epitomising loneliness and loss.  It was a worthy winner of the CMA’s Single of the Year award in 1990, and Song of the Year in 1991.  Vince’s status as a genuine new star was cemented by the final single released from the album, the almost equally exquisite sadness of ‘Never Knew Lonely’.  This was another song which Vince had cut on RCA, but which they had foolishly overlooked.  Vince would still need to wait a few years for his first #1, as these singles made #2 and 3 respectively, but the former in particular has stood the test of time and is one of the best-remembered songs of its era. It was also a genuine star-making record.

Not all the tracks maintain the same standard, but there are no poor tracks either, with even lesser (comparitively) material like ‘Oh Girl (You Know Where To Find Me)’ and ‘We Won’t Dance’ being very listenable, and possible standouts had they appeared on other artist’s albums.  Of the more up-tempo material, Vince’s cover of Guy Clark’s ‘Rita Ballou’, an ode to a sexy female rodeo rider, is notable for backing vocals from the great Emmylou Harris, and ‘Ridin’ The Rodeo’ features the Desert Rose Band’s Herb Pedersen, and was later covered by 90s group Perfect Stranger.  Given the quality of Vince’s songwriting, it seems surprising that more of his songs have not been covered by other artists – one can only assume that singers feel intimidated by the thought of competing with Vince’s own sublime versions.

Vince’s beautiful soaring tenor is best suited to emotion-infused ballads with melodies allowing him to stretch out both vocally and interpretatively.  My favorite tracks here, after ‘When I Call Your Name’ and ‘Never Knew Lonely’, fall into that category.  ‘We Could Have Been’, one of the few outside songs on the record (written by Don Cook and John Jarvis) is a wistful reflection on an ex-lover and what might have been, which might have been tailor-made for Vince to deliver, and Vince himself wrote the sweet love song, ‘Sight For Sore Eyes’ with Guy Clark. 

When I Call Your Name is still commercially available, and is essential listening for country fans.


24 responses to “Class of ’89 Album Review: Vince Gill – ‘When I Call Your Name’

  1. Paul W Dennis April 5, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    It was indeed a breakthrough album for Vince. I always wondered why RCA never got behind Vince. In addition to his undeniable talents, he had at least some track record of success with Pure Prairie League

  2. Leeann Ward April 5, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Nice review. I’ve reviewed Vinces output for RCA at Country Universe and noted some of the same problems with those albums. While I like those albums for what they were, I understand why they didn’t take off, save for a few songs that were certainly good enough to do so, which they kind of did. Furthermore, it’s interesting how Vince’s voice got fuller, more depth, when he switched over to MCA.

  3. Razor X April 5, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Vince was signed to RCA by Tony Brown, who left soon after that to take a position at MCA. Perhaps because the person who signed him had left, Gill was not a priority for whoever assumed Brown’s position and didn’t get the proper promotion.

    The same thing happened to Kenny Rogers at RCA. The executive who’d signed him to a $20 million a year contract — a record at the time — was fired, and the successor decided that the firing would make RCA look bad if Kenny Rogers was successful — so they made sure that he did not succeed. After his first RCA album Eyes That See In The Dark (1983), which contained “Islands in the Stream”, Rogers’ hits began to taper off because RCA refused to promote his records. Things got so bad that when Rogers’ contract was finally up and he departed for Warner Brothers, RCA deleted his entire catalog and told him to take the master tapes with him, because they didn’t want them. That’s why all of his RCA albums, except the Christmas album with Dolly, are out of print. And they even re-released that album without the one or two Rogers solo songs that were on the original.

    Back to Vince — his career might have taken off four or five years sooner if Tony Brown had stayed at RCA. I remember Vince winning that ACM’s Top New Male Vocalist award (or whatever it was called back then) in 1984 (I think) and it was years before I heard anything by or about him again, except in the liner notes of other peoples’ albums.

    BTW, his 1987 album The Way Back Home was a full-length album — or at least it was what RCA considered full length in the late ’80s (9 songs).

    As far as When I Call Your Name is concerned, I remember hearing “Never Alone” on the radio and thought it was OK, but not great. When the second single, “Oklahoma Swing” with Reba was released, I bought the CD to get that one song. I didn’t expect to like the rest of the album very much, but I was blown away. I’ve been a Vince Gill fan ever since, and this album is still one of my favorites.

    • Occasional Hope April 5, 2009 at 6:51 pm

      I refuse to call anything with nine tracks a full length album, even if RCA had the gall to 😉 I don’t remember them being any cheaper, for a start.

      • Razor X April 5, 2009 at 9:02 pm

        I agree with you. They took away one song instead of raising the price. I’d have preferred to pay a little extra to get 10 songs. I don’t like it when anything is downsized — restaurant portions, food in the supermarkets, etc. What used to be a half-gallon of ice cream is now a pint and a half for the same price. 😦

  4. Razor X April 5, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Just one more thing. I was never happier for anybody to win an award than I was for Vince when “When I Call Your Name” won the CMA’s Single of the Year award in 1990. I actually leaped from my chair and cheered when his name was called. He’d been trying to break through for so long, it was great to see him finally get some recognition and validation.

    I could have sworn that song was his first #1 hit. It may have gone to #1 in Radio & Records or some other non-Billboard publication. It was still on the charts the first time I saw him in concert, when he was opening for Reba. He looked like he’d just crawled out of bed on the tour bus. Didn’t even comb his hair, but he sure sounded great.

  5. Leeann Ward April 5, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    Razor, I’ve been a huge fan ever since I got into country music in ’94. I know I would have been cheering right there with you if I’d been around to do it when he won that award. As it was, I did some serious cheering when he won the Grammy for country Album of the Year for These Days. It’s really no secret that Vince is my very favorite artist and I couldn’t be prouder of it. He just represents music in every possible positive way imagineable.

  6. Hubba April 5, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    I loved “When I Call Your Name” from the first note, but Paul Franklin’s soaring steel solo was the crowning point of that one…

    • Leeann Ward April 5, 2009 at 11:55 pm

      Wasn’t John Huey the one who played steel on that song?

      • Razor X April 6, 2009 at 9:23 am

        I don’t know who played steel, but what makes that record are the harmony vocals.

        • Leeann Ward April 6, 2009 at 1:08 pm

          I think it’s both the steel and Patty’s harmony. I don’t know that the other could exist so well without the other. It’s an example of a masterfully produced song, where all the parts work together to form a perfect combination.

        • Hubba April 6, 2009 at 4:08 pm

          this is fun, having a discussion about who played steel on a particular song! Unfortunately, we don’t do a lot of that here in South Dakota.
          I always thought it was Paul, but I could be wrong…

        • Occasional Hope April 6, 2009 at 4:17 pm

          Paul Franklin is the only steel player credited on the album liner notes.

  7. Michael April 6, 2009 at 2:08 am

    Great album and great review. It is one of my favorite Vince discs. I think Rosanne Cash originally did “Never Alone” on her Rhythm and Romance album and I prefer her version. The Reba duet isn’t my favorite of theirs and you already cited my other highlights. I was surprised to hear “Ridin’ the Rodeo” in the movie Borat a few years ago.

  8. Leeann Ward April 6, 2009 at 7:23 am

    The Reba duet is one of my favorites of theirs on some days.

    • Razor X April 6, 2009 at 9:25 am

      Vince originally offered the song to Reba to record solo for one of her albums, and she turned it down because she was (and still is, frankly) recording more pop-sounding music at the time. So he decided to record it for his own album and invited her to sing it as a duet. I think it works better as a duet anyway.

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  10. Debbie April 9, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Does anyone know why Matraca Berg was in the video for When I Call Your Name instead of Patty Loveless? I like Matraca but wondered if Patty was ill or on tour when the video was made.

    • J.R. Journey April 9, 2009 at 10:35 pm

      I guess I never paid close enough attention to the music video, Debbie. I always thought it was Patty Loveless in the background, but after looking closer, it’s definitely not Patty.

      Anybody else have an answer to this question?

      • Razor X April 9, 2009 at 11:01 pm

        No, it’s definitely Matraca Berg. I don’t know Patty wasn’t used. I always assumed that she wasn’t available when the video was made.

  11. Jo Bowlin October 31, 2009 at 2:28 am

    I love Vince Gills voice on “When I Call Your Name”, however, the publisher of this article is mistaken on the writer of the song. I was told this by a close personal very reliable source. In the early 80’s, vince Gill entered a bar, where a man was attempting to sell a song he wrote to a friend for money to continue playing in a game of pool. The man didn’t have the money to buy the song, but Vince Gill read over the song and bought it from the man for $25, the man signed a release form, so the song belonged to Vince, and he may have changed a few words, but the original song wasn’t written by him. The song was written by my father, Jimmy Bowlin Sr. after he had come home from working to find that his girlfriend of about 4 years had left him. He locked himself in his bedroom for a week writing songs just because it made him feel better. He only left the room to go to the refrigerator and bathroom. the song was written out of pure, honest heartbreak by a man who fell in love with someone who only loved him for a short time. It doesn’t matter if Vince takes credit for writing the song, but my fathers heartbreak was real, and for him hearing this song means so much more and has more emotion than it could ever have for anyone.

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