2011 is proving to be one of those years when you get a cluster of great albums from major country artists. There’s a new Alan Jackson due in the shops soon (its first single “Long Way to Go” is on iTunes now), and we’ve recently seen very good records from the likes of Martina McBride (ELEVEN, well worth a listen) and Miranda Lambert (Four the Record, another corker).
Earlier in the year we had Stronger from Sara Evans and This is Country Music from Brad Paisley, both vying along with the two above to be the Best Country Album of 2011. But it’s Game Over when you hear the new Vince Gill: Guitar Slinger is the album I’ve wanted him to release for a long time.
Mr Gill’s last outing was These Days in 2006, a four (count ’em) album set, covering different styles, genres, and collaborators. It was a typically generous (43 songs!) offering from an artist whose integrity is beyond question. The price of These Days, when I bought it, was a little more than the cost of a single album. It’s now on iTunes for £15.99, which probably seems a bit steep if you’re not familiar with Mr Gill’s music. He clearly had a lot of material he wanted to put out, and he also wanted to take something of a career break to recharge his batteries. He has made guest appearances here and there, and there was a compo, but Guitar Slinger is the first new material in five years.
Mr Gill is versatile and talented, but his record company obviously realised a long time ago that there was gold in them there ballads. So there have been a lot of those over the years, and to be radio-friendly, his unbelievably good guitaring has taken a back seat. His truly soulful singing voice is about as far from Country standard as you can get, and his guitar playing is so subtle and tasteful that other players like Mr Paisley and Mr Urban get all the attention. Like George Harrison and Mike Campbell, he always puts the song first. His harmony vocals make him the number one choice for any female singer looking for a duet, as his voice blends beautifully with any other.
Starting as a banjo player in Pure Prairie League, Mr Gill’s solo career started in 1983. His Wikipedia entry suggests he was once asked to join Dire Straits, which might have made for one tasteful guitar player too many in that particular line-up.
Like other Nashville musicians, Mr Gill had a large number of instruments in storage when floods hit Nashville last year, including a Telecaster prototype that he later auctioned to raise money for the flood relief charity (he also organised a concert that raised $1.7 million). Luckily for him, his most precious Tele was with him at the time of the flood and this album seems to be a response to the losses and the spared. There are two versions of the album. The Deluxe version has three extra tracks. I thought I’d ordered regular, but ended up with Deluxe. I tend to prefer a shorter album. Deluxe comes in at over an hour.
Opening with a rocker (the title track; the Deluxe follows this with another rocker: “All Nighter Comin’”), which is a statement of intent, the album moves onto familiar Gill territory with a smooth, soulful ballad, “Tell Me Fool”. Songs like this have always been Gill’s strength, and he sometimes deigns to play a short, appropriate, guitar solo on them. On Guitar Slinger, he offers scorchingly good guitar on every track. For me, this is heaven. “Tell Me Fool” is the perfect Gill track. Give it a listen. It’s not just the notes that he plays; it’s all about the notes he doesn’t play. “Tell Me Fool” is followed by the gospel-styled “Threaten Me With Heaven”, which is another instant five-star favourite in iTunes.
“When the Lady Sings the Blues” moves from gospel/soul to blues (with blues guitar), and then we’re back to ballads with “When Lonely Comes Around” (and “Who Wouldn’t Fall in Love With You” on Deluxe).
There’s lots to enjoy here, and this is definitely an album to play over and over again. My one complaint is that this is not yet released in the UK. I do wish record companies would wake up to the fact that there is this thing called the internet and that their silly games with release dates and territoriality are completely irrelevant. I ordered an import from Amazon.