After the success of When Love Finds You Gill spent 1995 looking back through his greatest hits compilation Souvenirs. He ranked up even more industry awards when the project’s duet with Dolly Parton, “I Will Always Love You” won the CMA Vocal Event of the Year award in 1996, the same night he memorably won Song of the Year for “Go Rest High On That Mountain.”
But Gill didn’t spend long relishing the past. He released his eighth album High Lonesome Sound in May 1996 with producer Tony Brown at the helm. While the singles were some of Gill’s best, the album suffered from a substantial amount of sub-par filler unworthy of his talent.
There were five singles released from the project, with four cracking the top 5. The title tracks lead the way, peaking at #12 in mid-1996. Written solely by Gill, it’s one of his most enjoyable up-tempo singles. I love the opening lead guitar riff and the fully engaged vocal performance. It’s a shame the song didn’t make a bigger impact and I never knew it even was a single until a few years ago. The Bluegrass version, a duet with Alison Krauss and Union Station that closes the album, is just as good as the country one, proving why Gill is one of the most outstanding of all 90s country acts.
Second single “Worlds Apart” fared better, hitting #5, a remarkable feat for a slow ballad clocking in at well over four and a half minutes in length. Composed by Gill and Bob DiPiero, it’s the centerpiece of High Lonesome Sound and social commentary at its finest. He makes keen observations here about the ugliness of hate and the beauty of love without seeming preachy. Mixed with a dark yet understated arraignment of soft drums and gentle guitar, it’s one of Gill’s finest singles and holds up next to any of his classic ballads. It rightfully won him a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.
I vividly remember “Worlds Apart” and until recently never really understood the meaning of the song. At 9 years old, I wasn’t advanced enough to understand Gill’s message, but I fully understood his conviction. It remains one of my favorites of his singles to this day.
Gill solely wrote the album’s next three singles, which peaked at #2, #2, and #8 respectively. The ballad “Pretty Little Adriana,” released in October of 1996 lead the way. The painful true story of a girl abducted and murdered in a grocery story parking lot, it was composed as a tribute in her memory. Sonically, it’s my favorite single from the album. I love the gentle arraignment and even though it was born from a tragic story, “Pretty Little Adriana” is a beautiful song and fitting tribute to Adriana’s memory. It also won Gill a Best Male Country Vocal Performance Grammy award.
The fourth single, “A Little More Love” broke the heavy emotion set by the previous two. Essentially a fluff piece, it has a sing-along melody that gives the track an effortless charm. Gill doesn’t strive for anything more than a ditty here and he succeeds. It’s easy to forget he can just as easily turn on the charm as he can kill you with a powerful lyric.
The fifth and final single, “You and You Alone” returned Gill back to his comfort zone and was another ballad. Released in July of 1997, it featured another stunning vocal and I love how he used his upper register on the chorus to elevate the song to new heights. The beautiful opening with the distinctive guitar work gets me every time. It’s always a treat when I get to hear this song again.
If High Lonesome Sound was just the five singles, I would easily give the album an A. While they are largely ignored today, they remain some of Gill’s finest work. I just wish the rest of the album met that high a standard.
For me only “Jenny Dreamed of Trains,” with its unnecessary instrumental opening, and “Given More Time,” are worthy of Gill’s standards. “Trains” is a sweet tale Gill wrote about his eldest daughter and I love the traditional arrangement of “Time.” Both of these could’ve been singles, but held against the five that were it’s easy to see why they were overlooked.
On the flip side, I hate “Down In New Orleans,” a bluesy ballad made insufferable by the annoying background vocalists who serve as a distraction drowning out Gill’s vocal. And while they’re tolerable, both “One Dance With You” and “Tell Me Lover” don’t seem to gel with the emotional undertones set by the rest of the project.
As an album High Lonesome Sound is an example of recording five outstanding singles and then filling the rest of the project with filler. I was disappointed that the non-singles displayed so little of the artistry Gill has proven he’s so apt at. It feels to me like this is two albums trying and not succeeding to come together as one. If the album tracks came up to the standard of the singles, this would’ve been truly outstanding. Luckily for Gill, though, High Lonesome Sound isn’t close to being his worst album, I just wish it’d been one of his best.
High Lonesome Sound is available in hard copy from Amazon and digitally from both Amazon and iTunes.