It’s been half a decade since Vince Gill released a new album. On that occasion, he came out with four at once, with the critically acclaimed box set These Days. This time around the same team of Vince, John Hobbs and Justin Niebank has created a more concentrated effort with 15 tracks, recorded in Vince’s home studio. Vince’s vocals sound thoroughly energised and invested in the material, all of which he wrote or co-wrote, and which I feel is more consistent in quality than that on These Days. It is definitely a mature work, with a number of the songs focussed on the prospect of death, but never a depressing one.
The joyous and amusing title track opens proceedings with a bang with many references to Vince’s life ranging from his “contemporary Christian singer” wife to last year’s Nashville floods (“half my stuff’s in the Cumberland River”. This really conveys the sheer joy of making music. In the equally lively up-tempo ‘All Nighter Comin’’ (written with Chris Stapleton and Al Anderson, and only on the deluxe version) a newly unemployed truck driver sets aside his troubles for the evening. Despite the depressing background, the mood is uplifting, and either of these songs would sound great on the radio.
The beautifully sung lead single ‘Threaten Me With Heaven’ is a tender but confident gospel ballad written with Vince’s wife Amy Grant, Will Owsley (who tragically committed suicide last year) and Dillon Osborn. Owsley and Amy also co-wrote the mid-tempo AC ‘When Lonely Comes Around’, which is pleasant but forgettable. Amy and Vince duet on their song ‘True Love’, an AC ballad which pays tribute to their relationship, “true love that found us in time”. It isn’t a particularly interesting song, but the authenticity of the emotions make it touching beyond its merits. Amy’s daughter Sarah Chapman sings harmony.
Talented singer-songwriter and now a Pistol Annie, Ashley Monroe wrote two songs with Vince. The excellent ‘If I Die’, a beautifully constructed reflection on mortality and what comes after, is one of the best tracks on a fine record. Her other contribution, ‘Who Wouldn’t Fall In Love With You’ is a low-key, tender love ballad with a pretty melody and Ashley’s distinctive voice evident on harmony. Lee Ann Womack, meanwhile, provides tasteful backing vocals on ‘Lipstick Everywhere’, a retelling of a passionate one night stand with no subsequent regrets or repercussions. Another fine artist, Texas traditionalist Amber Digby co-wrote ‘One More Thing I Wished I’d Said’, dwelling with regret on the missed opportunities in a failed relationship. Sadly, she doesn’t sing on the track, but Dawn Sears makes a good substitute. These two are only included on the deluxe version, which is well worth the additional cost.
‘Bread And Water’, written with the great Leslie Satcher, is a lovely and subtle story song about a starving, drunken and dirty homeless man (inspired by Vince’s troubled brother) who finds himself in a missionary-run shelter seeking only the basics of life (literal bread and water), and the helper who welcomes him and introduces a more metaphorical interpretation relating to salvation, before he dies. Vince’s road band provide the backings for this track.
I loved the 70s sound of ‘Billy Paul’, with Vince’s daughters Jenny and Corrina supplying harmony which counterpoint the sad story with youthful innocence. This is a fascinating song based on a true story, with Vince questioning the old friend who turned to murder and suicide:
What made you go crazy, Billy Paul?
Was it true love or too much alcohol?
Was your back all the way against the wall?
Elsewhere we get an affectionate picture of ‘The Old Lucky Diamond Motel’, a fictional roadside establishment somewhere on Route 66. A singalong melody and colorful details make this another winner.
Vince’s longtime keyboard player Pete Wasner co-wrote two of the less country tracks. The soul-imbued ‘Tell Me Fool’ indignantly chastises a cheater, and is rather good. The cleverly written Billie Holiday tribute ‘When the Lady Sings The Blues’ has a committed vocal performance and virtuoso playing, but although very well done, it is not to my personal taste.
The album closes with a tribute to ‘Buttermilk John’, his former steel player John Hughey, to whom the album as a whole is dedicated, and to Hughey’s devoted love for wife Jean. The Time Jumpers, the mainly western swing combo Vince often works with in Nashville, and his own band both provide support, including not twin but triple fiddles. The steel guitar of Hughey’s successor Paul Franklin is fittingly front and center, with an extended solo.
This record may be just short of Vince at his very greatest – but it isn’t far short, and is a highly enjoyable record from one of the genre’s finest singers and musicians who has been silent too long.
For Vince’s own comments on the songs, go to Roughstock’s cut-by-cut interview.
You can also find live versions of several of the songs on youtube; here’s ‘If I Die’ with the Time Jumpers: