Following his stint as leader of the band Mountain Smoke and with key gigs playing alongside Ricky Skaggs and Byron Berline’s roots outfit Vince completed his early musical education with Pure Prairie League before realising he was best suited to being his own man. We pick his career up with the fourth album, When I Call Your Name, the disc that heralded his chart breakthrough.
Writing with Rosanne Cash (Never Alone), Guy Clark (Sight for Sore Eyes) and duetting with Reba McEntire on 'Oklahoma Swing', Gill and his producer Tony Brown also called on the talents of such musical specialists as Willie Weeks, Emmylou Harris, various Muscle Shoals stalwarts and steel maestro Paul Franklin. The results confirmed what those in the know were shouting from the rooftops – here is a contemporary country star fit to stand tall along the old timers.
Ensuing discs I Still Believe In You and Let There Be Peace on Earth (the first of his so-celled ‘Holiday’ albums) continue to stress his high-class approach though his is no formula. Guests on I Still Believe … include Delbert McClinton and Lou Reed, for example. With the title track hitting the number one slot and Vince’s adjacent Christmas disc punching all the appropriate Yuletide buttons, look out for notable assist from harp man Charlie McCoy and veteran bassist Leland Sklar. For those who wish to catch up with the man’s output to that point the collection Souvenirs is also the handiest of primers, offering a generous fifteen hits - including the Gill and Dolly Parton version of 'I Will Always Love You' that many cite as being the finest reading of the well loved tune.
The 1996 disc High Lonesome Sound brought Gill acclaim in the UK and Europe and was backed up by extensive touring. This is a particularly recommended release since it features Alison Krauss and her band Union Station playing a reprise of the title cut as well as vocal contributions from the then unknown Shelby Lynne.
Follow up The Key is another corker with hits aplenty. It became Vince’s first number one country album and finally established him at the top of his game. The Patty Loveless duet on 'My Kind of Woman/My Kind of Man' is classic old school country while 'I’ll Take Texas', penned by Clint Black, and the closing ballad, 'The Key To Life', give the album real breadth.
Let’s Make Sure We Kiss Goodbye takes Gill into the year 2000, looking forward on tracks like 'When I Look Into Your Heart', co-authored with regular songwriting pal Amy Grant, and staying true to his country soul roots on the remaining ballads.
The Next Big Thing allows him to expand on what one might call a double in the old money. Adding Al Anderson’s fiery guitar to the mix, recalling Weeks on bass and utilising the specialist talents of Dean Parks and with sax playing legend Jim Horn adding ace arrangements, the man in charge proves he’s still got that rocking touch, the cast of brilliant backing vocalists enriching the appeal of this fine achievement. Michael McDonald, Emmylou, Grant and Lee Ann Womack all add soul, swing and spice.
If anyone deserves a box set it’s Vince Gill and so to These Days (which won the Grammy for Best Country Album), a four disc extravaganza released in 2006 that fully reveals the artist’s ability to master genres from jazz and blues to traditional country and rock.
Except that this isn’t a retrospective! It’s a fantastically ambitious concept that calls on an amazing array of talent. Guests include Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Gretchen Wilson, Trisha Yearwood and Guy Clark. Buddy Emmons came out of retirement to play his last pedal steel session and the jazz singer Diana Krall decorates 'Faint of Heart'.
These Days is a substantial listen – close on 3 hours of magic - and a set that will convince all but the hardest hearted that Gill is genuine rawhide. The box set is split into four moods: The Rockin’ Record, The Groovy Record, The Country and Western Record and The Acoustic Record. Each section is an utter delight.
Guitar Slinger (also available as a Deluxe edition) was another wow. More stripped back than his more recent discs of that time this 2011 release allows the man’s voice and Fender room to breathe. It’s a firm favourite around these parts.
To bring us bang up to date we have Bakersfield (2013), a Vince Gill and Pau Franklin combo disc that pays tribute to Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. In many ways this is amongst his very best discs. Rough, raw and branded pure country the ten songs, divided equally between Merle and Buck compositions, bring the past into focus and make you want to hurtle back to the original artists, which is exactly what Gill and Franklin had in mind. The fantastic production and crystal clear interpretations should also be stressed. This already sounds like a disc for the country time capsule.
As time goes by it becomes apparent that Gill is a humble auteur. He’s immersed in the right stuff and he also has his own vision. He seems to be getting better with age too, which is comforting for his fans and should be an inducement to those who have yet to experience the marvels in his catalogue.
Words: Max Bell
Vince Gill left RCA after The Way Back Home in 1987. Tony Brown signed him to MCA shortly thereafter, and When I Call Your Name served as Gill's MCA debut and the beginning of his long association with the label and with Brown as a producer. Gill, already a seasoned pop musician and Nashville session player, brought with him the ability to write terrific songs and play the hell out of a guitar, along with a sweet-looking face and a killer voice. Brown set out to make him a star and pretty much succeeded the first time out, and in the early 21st century Gill is still racking them up on the charts. He served as contemporary country music's first real star and, along with the more traditional George Strait (another longtime survivor and hitmaker), was a true and respectful link to the music's long heritage. The first track to score on this set was "Oklahoma Swing," a smoking Western swing duet with Reba McEntire written by Tim DuBois, who also wrote an even bigger hit with the title track that paired Gill with Patty Loveless. Gill also did serviceable covers of Guy Clark's (then an RCA staff songwriter) classic "Rita Ballou" and "Sight for Sore Eyes," and Rosanne Cash's "Never Alone," which opened the disc. He also covered the criminally underappreciated Greg Trooper's midtempo ballad "We Won't Dance." Gill's own tunes, for perhaps the only time in his career, were used as filler on the album -- he wrote three of ten -- but he still managed a beauty with the gorgeous romantic stroller "Oh Girl (You Know Where to Find Me)." When I Call Your Name serves as the testament to Gill's arrival as a star and an enduring part of the country music legacy.
Words: Thom Jurek
As 2006 nears its end, no one can argue that the world of country music isn't, at this moment, the most adventurous in the mainstream pop music industry and that Nash Vegas is taking more chances on its acts as the rest of the biz relies more on narrowing things into smaller and smaller niches that can easily be hyped and digested. Sure, as always, artist's images and many recordings are calculated to score big as in any pop industry. The difference is in approach. The country-listening audience/demographic has widened considerably; therefore, there is a need -- as well as an opportunity -- for experimentation to see what sticks. This is the most exciting the music's been since Willie and Waylon hit the charts in the '70s, or perhaps to be a bit more fair, when Garth Brooks turned them upside down in the early '90s. Country music's fan base is growing because it still relies largely on radio, and video channels like CMT and GAC, both of which are very supportive of directors and artists taking artistic chances in the way they choose to dramatize, animate, and portray songs -- check the work of the brilliant director Trey Fanjoy just for starters. Country's latest audience grew up on rock & roll, MTV (when it still played videos), soul, blues, funk, early rap, and in some cases even punk. And while the marketing approach is still singles-driven, country music artists and producers, as well as the labels that house them, are still concerned with the "album" either as a whole, or as a completely crafted collection of varying singles (in this case meaning "good songs"). What's more, these folks still buy CDs (titles are readily available at the local in mega-marts and department stores) and don't rely on the internet as much as pop and rock fans do for information. Given the long run of the Dixie Chicks' Taking the Long Way at number one on the country and Billboard charts, one can't simply dismiss the music as being the religious right's stronghold or pop culture front for "traditional family values" anymore, either, though admittedly there's plenty of that around. In the 21st century it's country music and hip hop -- not rock -- that have been taking on the topics of race, class, basic human dignity and diversity, more than any other popular (chart measured) American musics. This current mindset in both the Nash Vegas offices and in the fan base is what makes Vince Gill's These Days, a 43-song, four-disc set, possible. Gill had been planning on making a standard single-disc record in 2006. He wanted it to be musically diverse. Given his long career as songwriter, picker, producer, singer, recording and performing artist, he had a right to expect his label MCA Nashville to go along with his choices. What he didn't count on was recording 31 songs with various groups of musicians and not knowing what to do with them. He approached Luke Lewis, the label's president, with an idea he got from the Beatles multi-release-per-year tactic (the same one everybody used in the '60s), which was to issue three albums approximately three months apart in a single calendar year. Lewis, visionary that he is, went one better. He encouraged Gill to go back into the studio and cut enough quality material for a fourth disc and release them all as a box set. Unlike most boxes on the shelf, this one retails for a fairly modest $29.98 -- less than eight dollars a disc -- an attractive package in time for the holidays. However, adventurous Nashville music industry or not, it all eventually comes down to the quality of the music after all, right? Yes. These four discs are thematically arranged: there's an acoustic bluegrass-flavored record called "Little Brother" (disc four), a rock record called "Workin' on a Big Chill" (disc one), a trad country & western album called "Some Things Never Get Old" (disc three), and a modern soul and jazz-inflected disc of ballads and more gentle pieces called "The Reason Why" (disc two). What's more, though Gill wrote or co-wrote everything here, he called in numerous guests to help him out. These include Gretchen Wilson, his wife Amy Grant, daugher Jenny Gill, Bonnie Raitt, Rodney Crowell, Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall, pedal steel guitar boss Buddy Emmons, Phil Everly, Rebecca Lynn Howard, the Del McCoury Band, Patty Loveless, Emmylou Harris, John Anderson, Katrina Elam, Lee Ann Womack, LeAnn Rimes, Guy Clark, Trisha Yearwood, Bekka Bramlett, and Michael McDonald. The end result is a magical mystery tour through Gill's own wildly varying aesthetic interests and his uncanny ability to pull off his diverse ideas on tape. These Days is not only a showcase of Gill's multidimensional musical persona, but a virtual treatise on the expansive, open-minded, under the umbrella viewpoint that has taken over Nashville in the current era. "Workin' on a Big Chill" lives up to its name as a rock record as reflected in the tunes, the beats, and the instrumentation. The title track alone, with Gill's own considerable bluesed-out guitar-slinging skills burning down the house, punches a hole in expectations; the track also includes a Wurlitzer, a B-3 and Bramlett's killer backing vocals. "Love's Standin'" was written with co-producer John Hobbs (Justin Niebank and Gill, of course, also inhabit these chairs), and the wonderfully iconoclastic songwriter and producer Joe Henry (it could have been a smash for Fleetwood Mac), and showcases the sheer white soul backing chorus of Bramlett (who was a member of the latter day Fleetwood Mac), Gene Miller, and Gill. Wilson guests on "Cowboy Up," is more an upscale blues tune than a country song and proves Wilson can sing anything she wants and belongs where she is -- at the top. While there isn't a weak moment on this set, some of the other standouts include the popping "Sweet Thing," with a full-on horn section, the Jerry Lee Lewis-inspired "Nothin for a Broken Heart," with Crowell, and the utterly sexy and soulful country rocker "The Rhythm of the Pourin' Rain," with Bramlett. The only complaint here is that there isn't more of this material: four CDs of rock & roll tracks would have been welcome, and if rock radio were worth a damn Gill would easily crossover with a couple of these songs. With its subdued tone, and generally slicker productions that include strings, some muted synthesizers, jazzy arrangements, and pop music stylistic tropes, one might think that "The Reason Why: The Groovy Record" would be the least desirable here. Not so. From the opening cut, "What You Don't Say," with Rimes and a full-on string section with ringing pedal steel, Gill proves he is an American pop songwriter par excellence. If all the music on the charts was done this well, with this much passion and soul and pomp, radio would never have lost its appeal. This is the album in the set that reveals the depth of Gill's craft as a songwriter. The early rock & roll waltz trappings and vibes, as well as distorted piano on the title cut with Krauss, is a gorgeous love song with some of Gill's finest vocals on tape. Period. "Rock of Your Love" could have been featured on any of Raitt's latter recordings, and that's a compliment. The slow, dirty guitar line and Raitt's R&B slow burning voice carry it home. Where Gill uses guest vocalists -- female vocalists have always provided a wise counterpoint to his own husky tenor -- the tunes work so well most could be singles. Check "What You Give Away," with Crow, and "The Memory of You," with Yearwood. They're solid; full of honest emotion and pop brilliance. The beautiful love song and gospel tune, "Tell Me One Time About Jesus," with Grant, and "Time To Carry On," with Jenny Gill, are excellent album tracks and give depth, dimension and warmth to this set and are indispensable to it. The duet with Krall is the greatest chance Gill could take. He works in her idiom -- and, of course, she plays that wonderful piano of hers -- and pulls it off with grace and aplomb in the same way Tom Waits pulled off his duets with Crystal Gayle on the soundtrack for One from the Heart.
"Some Things Never Get Old" is subtitled "The Country & Western Record." This is an important distinction because what Gill has assembled here is nothing short of a honky tonk set. Though Gill's voice is a little smooth and high, it hardly matters because he's got the two things that count most on an old-school C&W set: the songs and the band. With Emmons on pedal steel (he's one of the great sonic and stylistic innovators on the instrument) guitarist Billy Joe Walker, Jr., fiddle boss Stuart Duncan, and a slew of backing vocalists who include Dawn Sears, Liana Manis, Jon Randall, Andrea Zonn, and Wes Hightower, as well as his core band, he's in the pocket. The music here collects styles from hardcore honky tonk, countrypolitan, late-night loving and torch songs done as only country singers can, and of course, hillbilly anthems. Some of the top-notch tracks here include "Out of My Mind," with Patty Loveless, the title cut, "Sweet Little Corrina" with Everly (which harks back to those classic Warner Brothers Everly sides), "If I Can Make Mississippi" with Womack, the rowdy good ole boy outlaw anthem, "Take This Country Back," a duet with the truly incomparable John Anderson.
This leaves, finally, "Little Brother, The Acoustic Record." True; some fans of country -- especially modern country, may have a harder time with this disc because it is both a bluegrass record full of banjos, dobros, mandolins, white Southern gospel, and mountain music -- and simply recorded country ballads. Fans of Gill's shouldn't be surprised; his membership in the Grand Ole Opry, his deep reverence for this tradition, and his ability to write, play, and sing in it like an old master, -- and his previous recordings featuring these qualities -- qualify him to indulge that Muse. But Gill's approach, as old-school in thinking as it may be, uses both the music's early reliance on blues and folk styles of the British Isles as a way of expressing the mountain tradition and also the modern scholarship and musical innovations informing it. He is accompanied by the Del McCoury Band on a couple of selections here -- "Cold Gray Light of Gone," "A River Like You," with Jenny Gill, "Ace Up Your Pretty Sleeve," co-written with the great and criminally under-noticed Mark Germino, and "Give Me the Highway" -- but his own takes on country are actually quite creative in his interpretation on the form. But the chiller here is "Girl" with Rebecca Lynn Howard. Here, the deep, high lonesome sound is informed by all of the early folk musics that came before it, and Gill gives them all free reign as this tune wafts from the Appalachian mountain country to Celtic, Irish, and Scottish meadows and coastlines. And although the set's final cut, "Almost Home," with Guy Clark, has no commercial potential, it's a fitting way to close an album; it's a storyteller's tune, one where Clark speaks in that age-old wizened rogue manner of his, and helps to create a myth of near-epic proportion.
What it all adds up to is that this is Gill's masterwork. It's an exhaustive, profound, fun and fulfilling set that not only gives fans something to delight in, but goes wide and if given half a chance could and would attract many new ones. It is one of the major recordings not only of 2006, but of the decade so far -- in any genre. This is the treatment a seasoned artist like Gill deserves, and along with the benefit and support of being able to indulge in such a project, it lives up to the responsibility of delivering the goods in abundance. This is yet another example that the new media-savvy form of country music introduced by Brooks in the '90s has yielded something far more interesting and exciting than some folks are willing to accept, and yet still others are able to believe.
Words: Thom Jurek
The black-and-white cover photograph and the title of Vince Gill's Let's Make Sure We Kiss Goodbye offer a story that unfolds as the recording itself plays. The album was written in the months preceding his marriage to singer Amy Grant, and if there was ever a record drenched in the kind of transformative rush of new love, this is the one. Yes, it is sappy at times, but the songwriting, as usual, is top-notch, and so are the performances here; mostly they're just really mellow and warm. That doesn't mean that sparks don't fly from some tracks: "Baby Please Don't Go" is drenched in choogling rockabilly swagger, "Shoot Straight from Your Heart is solid -- if softer -- contemporary country, and "Feels Like Love" is a midtempo country-pop tune that has that trademark wonderful rousing Gill vocal in the refrain. The rest are mostly love songs but inspired ones. Grant was clearly his muse on this set, and nowhere is it more clear than on the lilting title cut and "When I Look into Your Heart," where Gill and Grant perform a duet. Tony Brown's production is pristine and everywhere, but the craft and arrangements in these songs are all Gill's. This is a beautiful and sincere recording, one that not everyone will taker a shine to because of its tenderness, but that doesn't make it any less of a quality endeavor. You only make a record like this once in a lifetime; Vince Gill should be proud of this one.
Words: Thom Jurek
Vince Gill received one of the greatest gifts of his professional life when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2011. One listen to Guitar Slinger, his first record in five years, makes it easy to comprehend why: he has carried the genre forward to embrace the rest of popular music without sacrificing its tradition. Gill can be forgiven for not recording for so long; after all, These Days was a four-disc set of all-new material. Guitar Slinger, co-produced by Gill with Justin Niebank and John Hobbs, compresses everything he displayed on These Days and more. Gill wrote or co-wrote all 12 of these songs. His astonishing musical range is readily on display, the diversity inseparable from his creative identity. You'd be forgiven for thinking, given its title, that Guitar Slinger primarily showcases Gill's enviable instrumental skills, but it's only a small part of the album's appeal. Though he plays plenty, this is a singer's and a songwriter's album. Gill moves effortlessly from place to place beginning with the slamming, '50s-styled rock & roll of the title track that opens the album and pays homage to everyone from Paul Burlison to Scotty Moore and Luther Perkins. From here, he does a modern Nashvillian take on blue-eyed country soul with "Tell Me Fool," which features gorgeous backing vocals by Bekka Bramlett, daughter Jenny Gill, Billy Thomas, and Chris Stapleton (some version of this foursome is everywhere present here). The album's first single, "Threaten Me with Heaven," co-written with wife Amy Grant (who appears on backing vocals) and Will Owsley, is a gorgeous pop-country love song delivered in Gill's silky yet impassioned voice. The kicker is in the gospel-inflected refrain that defies any listener to remain unmoved. "When the Lady Sings the Blues," with its hip Rhodes piano and electric blues guitar licks, digs deep into Southern R&B traditions. Guitar Slinger also looks at mortality squarely in a number of tracks here; something Gill hasn't done much of before. It's in the single's refrain to be sure, but there's also the honky tonk swinger "If I Die," the uptempo Bakersfield-styled country of "Billy Paul" (which details a murder-suicide), and the closing back country waltz "Buttermilk John." "True Love," the album's second single, is a beautiful duet with Grant; it's a breezy, bluesy paean to marital commitment, with tastefully arranged strings that underscore the lyrics and vocal deliveries without robbing them of their emotional power. "Bread and Water" is a 21st century country-gospel number that stays far afield from the saccharine nature of most efforts in this arena. "The Old Lucky Diamond Motel" is a retro-country waltz whose roots lie in the era before countrypolitain. Ultimately, with its ambitious range of music, Guitar Slinger proves that Gill just gets better with age. The album is not just the best country has to offer (if the genre were modeled on his standard, its radio stations would be difficult to turn off), but more: it's the best that pop music has to offer, too.
Words: Thom Jurek
It's a small miracle that Bakersfield, the collaborative hard country album by Vince Gill and Paul Franklin, was released by a major label. Totally out of fashion and having nothing whatsoever to do with contemporary country, it's a clarion reminder of the music's most creative period. Bakersfield is a collection of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard tunes from the 1960s, cut by an all-star session band. It not only pays tribute to these giants and the era, but also the sound, and the men who created it: guitarists Don Rich and Roy Nichols, pedal steel guitarist Tom Brumley, and fiddler Jelly Sanders. No one is more qualified to sing these songs than Gill, who is the greatest living vocalist in country music and a killer guitarist whose catalog reveals that he's has been on a creative tear since 2000. Franklin has played on over 500 records; he's a multi-instrumentalist who migrated from Detroit to Nashville in the late '70s to become a modern pedal steel legend. The two are also members of the country and bluegrass band the Time Jumpers. Bakersfield is not merely an exercise in nostalgia; these cats reveal the timeless appeal of California country's golden age. Owens and Haggard were outsiders, true to the tradition of Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers. They were harder, edgier, definitely not "countrypolitan." Opener "The Foolin' Around," by Owens and Harlan Howard, establishes Bakersfield's M.O. It's an uptempo honky tonk stepper, with fine fiddle work from Kenny Sears and great breaks from Gill's Telecaster and Franklin's steel. Haggard tunes like "Branded Man," "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down," and "Holding Things Together" are common choices, but Gill's vocals -- lead and harmony -- are chilling in their clarity and emotional depth, and the band's commitment to the material is total. On Owens' classic "Together Again," Franklin deftly underscores the romantic ache (and relief at reunion) in Gill's voice. The steel also highlights and empathizes with the protagonist's pain and suffering in Haggard's "I Can’t Be Myself." This devastating vocal performance is among the finest of Gill's career. Owens' barroom-swinging "Nobody's Fool But Yours" offers strutting, chunky Telecaster breaks and Franklin's five-finger picks coloring the verses. The only authorial anomaly here is the stellar honky tonk love song "But I Do," by Tommy Collins. Owens played lead guitar in his band in the early '50s, and recorded the song on 1963's Buck Owens Sings Tommy Collins. Some may find the inclusion of Haggard's anthemic "The Fightin' Side of Me" problematic. Those who dismiss the song as jingoistic patriotism conveniently forget that the words "…I don't mind 'em switchin' sides and standing up for things that they believe in..." are in the lyrics. Gill's faithful interpretation is authentic as a populist exhortation to participate in the democratic process rather than simply complain from the sidelines. The bottom line is Bakersfield smokes from top to bottom; a fitting tribute, it is one of, if not the, best country album of 2013.
Words: Thom Jurek
Drawn largely from Vince Gill's first three albums for MCA Records, 1989's When I Call Your Name, 1991's Pocket Full of Gold, and 1992's I Still Believe in You, Souvenirs functions as a greatest-hits collection from what is arguably Gill's finest period as a solo artist. Gill's smooth tenor singing is practically the definition of modern slow-burning country sincerity, all done with a touch of that bluegrass "high lonesome" sound, and his ease with ballads frequently obscures the fact that he is one hell of a guitar player when he decides to be. Highlights on this easy to like set are duets with Reba McEntire ("The Heart Won't Lie") and Dolly Parton ("I Will Always Love You"), an interesting cover of the Eagles' "I Can't Tell You Why," and the infectious and upbeat "Liza Jane," which lets Gill rock things out a little. Souvenirs isn't the last word on Vince Gill, who continues to record and release quality contemporary country and bluegrass albums, but there isn't a better single-disc introduction to the commercial side of his output than this one.
Words: Steve Leggett
Vince Gill's studio offering following his paean to his new bride, Let's Make Sure We Kiss When We Say Goodbye, is one of his strongest recordings in a decade. Perhaps it's the freedom from the usual Nashville production bullsh*t -- Gill produced the album himself. His cast of players and singers is a veritable list of stars, including Emmylou Harris, Lee Ann Womack, the Doobie Brothers' Michael McDonald, life partner Amy Grant, Kim Keyes, Andrea Zonn, and Leslie Satcher. Famed producer and engineer Justin Niebank is at the mixing desk, and Gill's regular band propels a mixed bag of pop, boogie, swing, and neo-trad country tunes -- and odd for a Nash Vegas album, there are 17 of them, not ten or 12. Standout tracks are the rollicking title with its booming guitars; the mariachi-tinged "We Had It All"; the slow country stroll of "Young Man's Town," despite its sweeping strings and electric violin moan; and the stunning ballad "These Broken Hearts," with McDonald adding a depth of emotion rarely matched on Gill's records. There is also the Merle Haggard tribute "Real Mean Bottle" that features the opening guitar lines to "Mama Tried." But it's far from syrupy -- it's a tough song about a tougher, more visionary man than the singer could ever hope to be, sung in an unflinching manner. All of this said, there are the now-requisite Gill saccharine tracks such as "Whippoorwill River," an insufferable homage to his father that drowns in syrup. The hardcore honky tonk rock of "The Sun's Gonna Shine on You" is one of the strongest cuts on any Gill album, full of shuffling blues and rockabilly swagger. "Old Time Fiddle" is a cross-pollination of Cajun music and bluegrass that works surprisingly well considering how slick it is -- perhaps it's the layered accordions and the organic-sounding percussion. The album closes with "In These Last Few Days," another ballad; Gill always makes records that are at least 60/40 ballads to up-tempo tunes, and this track is that forlorn, bittersweet ballad that seems to close every record of his. But lyrically it's so strong and vulnerable that it works, leaving the listener haunted with the notion that something special has occurred, that he or she has born witness to a man becoming aware of the preciousness of his own life. In all, it's a strong effort. It's nice to see established artists reclaim control of their careers -- especially when the results are so rewarding.
Words: Thom Jurek
By 1994, Vince Gill was a bona fide country superstar. His recordings had sold into the millions and his tours were sellouts around the globe. He was ubiquitous on the radio as well. Producer Tony Brown took an even heavier hand on Gill's recordings, even though Gill's own songs dominated his records. The tightrope walk between a handsome tender country-pop balladeer and the rootsy rocking honky tonk guitar picker was beginning to fall on the side of the ballads. It was working on the charts, but some of Gill's older fans -- those familiar with his multifaceted talent -- began to grow weary of him playing it so safe. There are only three uptempo cuts on When Love Finds You: the tough rockabilly swagger that is at the heart of "South Side of Dixie," the honky tonk shuffle "What the Cowgirls Do," and the midtempo country-rocker "You Better Think Twice." The rest are ballads -- every last one of them -- but there are a few real gems, including the opener, "Whenever You Come Around," and the stunning title track.
Words: Thom Jurek
Vince Gill had already enjoyed country success before 1992's I Still Believe in You, but it was the album's four number one singles and almost immediate platinum status that assured the honey-voiced performer's fame and staying power. Gill's delivery is as smooth as the glass surface of a secluded mountain swimming hole, shifting from promise and pain to love and loneliness with easy charm and the occasional touch of his high lonesome background ("No Future in the Past," "Say Hello"). The title track fairly glows with slow-cooked soul, while "Don't Let Our Love Slip Away" nods along on a late-'70s contemporary country vibe. The whole affair is so gosh darn flawless it's impossible not to like. After all, how can you fault a guy with mainstream marketability who's also a talented session guitar player, songwriter, and the owner of one of Nashville's best voices?
Words: Johnny Loftus
On The Key, Vince Gill presents a rather dazzling array of traditional styles to display his versatile talent. Going back to his Oklahoma country roots for inspiration, something he hasn't done in many years, he comes out with a recording so startling that even heavy-handed producer Tony Brown left it pretty much alone.Gill is in fine voice throughout, joining with a colorful cast of backing singers -- including Patty Loveless, Alison Krauss, Sara Evans, Lee Ann Womack, and Faith Hill -- to create the type of music that contemporary country radio has not played in over a decade. Over 13 tracks, Gill eases gracefully from one roots country style to another, from a classic hillbilly waltz to the edgy Bakersfield sound. He even skillfully tips his hat to guitar great Roy Nichols on "There's Not Much Love Here Anymore." A duet with Loveless, "My Kind of Woman/My Kind of Man," stands proudly next to the best country duets of George Jones and Tammy Wynette and Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens. Most impressive is "Kindly Keep It Country," a stone-cold hard country song that details one man's heartbreak and the soothing effects of a jukebox and a bar stool. As heartbreaking as any song he's ever written is "Let Her In," told from the perspective of a divorced father who is trying to rebuild his life and still retain his relationship with his daughter. Just as effective is "The Hills of Caroline," a mountain bluegrass tune with a strong melody and narrative enhanced by the beautiful backing vocals of Krauss. The closing title cut is an endearing acoustic country tune, complete with mandolins and banjo, that comes directly from Gill's relationship with his late father. For emotional depth, honesty, and the kind of musical depth and artistry listeners have come to expect from Gill, The Key stands among his very finest recordings.
Words: Thom Jurek