Album Review: Vince Gill — Guitar Slinger

Ken Morton, Jr. | October 12th, 2011

vincegillguitarslingerAt this stage of his career, Vince Gill has earned the right to experiment. His 2006 four-disc box set These Days epitomized the fact that Gill wanted to stretch his musical wings and dabble, bringing several different musical genres and styles into his country music arsenal. On Guitar Slinger, Gill continues that diversification and delivers straight-out blues, classic steel-driven country, a little bluegrass influence, gospel themes and modern country, all done well with that gorgeous, high lonesome sound of a voice.

The album opens up with a fun, up-tempo, title track that picks up where 2003’s “Next Big Thing” leaves off. Gill stretches out and shows off his guitar picking chips and delivers a great little throwaway line as tribute to last year’s Nashville floods: “Half my stuff is in the Cumberland River.” “Who Wouldn’t Fall in Love with You” is a tender lyric co-written by Pistol Annie Ashley Monroe and “That’s When Lonely Comes Around” is a terrific modern percussion-driven radio-friendly single. Both of those tracks benefit from that beautiful classic Gill vocal treatment that imparts emotion and a sense of loneliness with every syllable.

There are three truly phenomenal tracks on this album that will certainly go down as some of the best of the year. “Bread And Water” is the story of a homeless man—loosely based on Gill’s brother—who finds a kind place to eat and more importantly, a place to save his soul. The combination of death, forgiveness, salvation and redemption is stuff Gill does so incredibly well and this song delivers big time. (Anyone who argues with this just needs to listen to “Go Rest High on That Mountain” just one time.)

“Old Lucky Diamond Hotel,” a delicious slice of Americana, was inspired by the razing of several classic Route 66 landmarks. It’s wrapped up in great, gritty 70s country themes like losing your virginity to a sweet Spanish stripper, filtered Pall Malls, pool shooting, and raising hell as a teenager. Gill gives the hotel more admiring description in four minutes than do most newspaper stories. At the end of the song, it’s hard not to lament that they’re demolishing a fictional location with such character.

The last song in an outstanding trio of powerhouse tunes is the first song released to radio, “Threaten Me with Heaven.” This sure-fire ICM award-nominee was written by his wife Amy Grant, Dylan O’Brien, Will Owsley and Gill. Tragically, Owsley took his own life shortly thereafter and the power and emotional strength behind this song hints at something bigger at work if you’re so spiritually inclined. For Gill, the delivery of this song is extremely personal and it comes through in sound.

After 17 studio albums, 20 Grammys and 18 CMA Awards, you might think Gill might not have anything left to prove. Guitar Slinger proves otherwise. It’s clearly one of the top releases of this year.

4 Stars

Pre-order Guitar Slinger

 

  1. Leeann Ward
    October 12, 2011 at 9:23 am

    My review will be coming closer to the release date (mostly because I’m a terrible procrastinator), but I really like this album. I’ll keep most of my specific thoughts to myself for now, but I’ll say that there are three songs that I don’t enjoy at all so far, but I either like or love the rest. I’ve heard “Bread and Water” for a year or more now, so it’s not new to me, which might be why I don’t love it, but then, “Go Rest High” really isn’t one of my favorite Vince gill songs, which is blasphemous, I know.

  2. Leeann Ward
    October 12, 2011 at 9:24 am

    PS. “Bread and Water” is in my like category, not one of the three that I dislike.

  3. J.R. Journey
    October 12, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    I’m not a big fan of “Go Rest High” either. I appreciate it for what it is, but after years of hearing it at every funeral I attend and on late-night radio, I’ve grown unaffected by it.

    I’m really liking “Tell Me Fool” and “The Old Lucky Diamond Hotel”, and also like Leeann, there are only a butcher’s handful of songs from this set that I am indifferent to. It’s already earned a high spot on my end-of-the-year lists.

  4. luckyoldsun
    October 12, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    I thought that putting out “These Days” as a 4-CD set was one of the looniest things an artist and label had done in quite a while. Gill was having trouble getting airplay or selling albums by then anyway. He put out years worth of new material all at once and nobody really had a chance to hear it before everyone moved on and ignored it.

    Hopefully, for him, this album will be a case of less-is-more and will have a bigger impact.

  5. Rick
    October 12, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    I’ve never much cared for Vince Gill’s voice and therefore haven’t paid much attention to his music. On the other hand I like story songs about places, objects, and historical events, so “Old Lucky Diamond Hotel” should be worth a listen. Sounds like something Fred Eaglesmith would write a song about…

  6. Leeann Ward
    October 12, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    Lucky,
    Your observations never cease to astound me.

    To be clear, my problem with “Go Rest High” isn’t the lyrics; I’ve just never been hooked by the melody.

  7. luckyoldsun
    October 13, 2011 at 12:32 am

    L.W.
    Just stating bluntly what strikes me as the truth.

    Gill’s label released TWO singles off of that 4-CD set–and only one of them even made the top-40–and it only made the bottom half.

    The strategy of putting out all of his music over some 8 years in one single package was nuts. I recall that the set got some media attention in the week that it was released, and Gill maybe got an appearance on Letterman or Leno, but that was about it and it was quickly gone.

  8. Leeann Ward
    October 13, 2011 at 6:40 am

    He got plenty more attention than that, but I think he’d long since given up on being a big radio artist at that point anyway. At that point in his career, I’m guessing a grammy and respect from his peers was more importont, both of which he received. I’m coming from the perspective of an admitted super fan, I understand, but I certainly know of people who aren’t fans who respected that project.

  9. Leeann Ward
    October 13, 2011 at 6:47 am

    Btw, since your comments regarding Gill’s box set is hardly your first baffling observation about respected artists, I’m not taking this one all too seriously either.:)

  10. Barry Mazor
    October 13, 2011 at 9:06 am

    Vince Gill does not wake up in the morning expecting to have a new hit single–or care all that much any more that that’s how things are. He does what he wants to do, and that’s a lot of things, and helps who he wants to help, which is a lot of people, especially around the city of Nashville–and also the music.

  11. Jon
    October 13, 2011 at 10:59 am

    I know lots of folks who haven’t “moved on and ignored” These Days.

  12. Leeann Ward
    October 13, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Indeed, Jon. And I should have said “respect”, not “respected.”

  13. luckyoldsun
    October 13, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    “I understand, but I certainly know of people who aren’t fans who respected that project.”

    Well, it certainly earned him respect. Everything I read about it at the time of the release was very respectful. Even reverential.
    But who remembers the songs? It’s just lunacy to take all of an artist’s output over 7-plus years and throw it all on the market in one day.

  14. Jon
    October 13, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    And we are supposed to think your music business insights – never mind artistic abilities – are superior to Vince Gill & Co.’s because…?

  15. Wayne
    October 13, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    My least favorite songs of Gill are his Christmas songs. Just can’t handle the voice. Songs such as “When I Call Your Name” are classic. Sang with the same voice but somehow comes off much better.

  16. luckyoldsun
    October 14, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    Toby Keith has said that his record label used to tell him that he should try to be like Vince Gill. I guess he didn’t listen.

  17. Matt Bjorke
    October 16, 2011 at 12:06 am

    @Luckyoldsun,

    That project was certified Platinum. He Won Grammy Awards, was nominated for many other awards and the project landed on many major best-of lists for 2006, the year it came out. Also, last time I checked, it’s the last few months of 2011 and “These Days” came out in 2006? Five years ago. looks like if he’d released each of those albums over that same period, he’d have been where we are now, a new record.

  18. luckyoldsun
    October 16, 2011 at 2:28 am

    MB
    The gold/platinum certification business seems to be more of a recording industry promotional tool than an honest gauge of music sales. For one thing, it tracks “shipments,” rather than sales–which seems rather meaningless.

    But it goes totally off the rails when it comes to box sets and multiple CD packages. According to what I’ve always read in Billboard, a “Gold” album is one with shipments of 500,000 units and a “platinum” album is one with shipments of a million. But according to the fine print, when a package has multiple discs, they multiply the number of sales by the number of discs in the box in order to “certify” it. And they do that even if it’s priced at less than half as much per disc as a standard release.So a 4-cd box gets certified “platinum” with shipments of only a quarter-of-a-million.

    I think most people remember when Garth Brooks seemed to be obsessed with catching Elvis or the Beatles and being recognized as the biggest selling artist of all-time, he would package 6 of his old CDs in one box and offer it for sale at deep discount for about the price of 2 cd’s. Then they’d move or ship half a million of the boxes and they’d add another 3 million to his tally.

  19. Matt Bjorke
    October 16, 2011 at 2:56 am

    I know full-well how the RIAA certification process works. The album sold 250,000+ copies which is remarkable given the $30 price.

    “Shipments” to stores is indeed a sale. Retailers buy physical copies from recording companies. What did you think they were on loan?

    Regardless of what you think of the certification process, it still is a Platinum album that is held to the same certification process as any box set would be so that doesn’t “cheapen” the fact that it’s a Platinum recording. It wasn’t some “marketing gimmick,” either. it’s a project that resonated with fans and has sold well enough to be ordered/bought 250,000+ times.

    I don’t think because it had a Top 40 hit and two lesser singles (one which didn’t chart) that failed to do as well means the project wasn’t a success and a marvelous showcase of a talented and down right inspired artist at work. I think there are FEW artists who could’ve come out with such a project and had it become the cohesive success it was, both commercially, critically and for Vince and all involved in making it, spiritually.

  20. Jon
    October 16, 2011 at 10:41 am

    You’re wasting your keystrokes.

  21. Jeremy Dylan
    October 27, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Listening to the title track is some of the most fun I’ve had this year.

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