Tuesday, December 19, 2006

135. Vince Gill - These Days (2006)

In country, artists who compose their own material are the exception rather than the rule. And yet here we have Vince Gill, who has not only released 4 albums simultaneously (a feat not even matched by Prince), but also had a hand in writing all 43 songs.

As many admirers as Gill has (myself included), none would have considered him an artistic force. Maybe it's time to change that. As with any sprawling project, there are some duds, but there are also plenty of gems. Here's the scoop on the four discs, by the numbers:

Disc One: Workin' On A Big Chill (The Rockin' Record)

Happy Love Songs: 5
Sad Heartbreak Songs: 2
Church Songs: 0
Murder Ballads: 0
Wanderin' Man Songs: 3

Guest Artists: Gretchen Wilson, Rodney Crowell, Bekka Bramlett, Michael McDonald

Lowlights:
Cowboy Up (bravado-laced hick song more suited to Toby Keith)
Workin' On A Big Chill (a beach bum tune more suited to Jimmy Buffett)
Rhythm Of The Pourin' Rain (uncomfortably horny and unsexy)

Highlights:
Love's Standin' (horns and a delicious '60s guitar lick)
Nothin' For A Broken Heart (like Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis doing a duet)

Summary: Gill stretches a bit too much out of character. It's the worst disc of the four.
Grade: C

Disc Two: The Reason Why (The Groovy Record)

Happy Love Songs: 5
Sad Heartbreak Songs: 5
Church Songs: 2
Murder Ballads: 1
Wanderin' Man Songs: 0

Guest Artists: LeeAnn Rimes, Alison Krauss, Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall, Jenny Gill, Trisha Yearwood, Amy Grant

Lowlight:
Tell Me One More Time About Jesus (then again, don't)

Highlights:
What You Give Away (inspiring gospel-tinged life advice)
Time To Carry On (haunting I'm-getting-over-you tune)
How Lonely Looks (vintage Gill falsetto)
Everything And Nothing (Elton John should record this)
Which Way Will You Go (sort of an inverse Goodbye Earl)

Summary: This is where Gill's strengths lie and is thus the best disc of the four. The songs are gentle, mannered and full of hooks, the guests slot in perfectly without being distracting, and the two jazz forays prove Gill could have a second career as a crooner.
Grade: A-

Disc Three: Some Things Never Get Old (The Country & Western Record)


Happy Love Songs: 3
Sad Heartbreak Songs: 5
Church Songs: 0
Murder Ballads: 0
Wanderin' Man Songs: 2

Guests: Alison Krauss, Patty Loveless, Emmylou Harris, Phil Everly, LeeAnn Womack, John Anderson

Lowlight:
I Can't Let Go (overdramatic)

Highlights:
This New Heartache (lots of references to old C & W artists and songs)
Some Things Never Get Old (includes a jarring shout-out to John Prine)
Take This Country Back (a plea to reclaim country music, with the line "how we gonna face the man in black?")

Summary: The second best disc of the four and also the twangiest.
Grade: B

Disc Four: Little Brother (The Acoustic Record)

Happy Love Songs: 4
Sad Heartbreak Songs: 2
Church Songs: 1
Murder Ballads: 1
Wanderin' Man Songs: 2

Guests: Jenny Gill, Del McCoury, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Guy Clark

Lowlights:
Sweet Augusta Darlin' (forced and unoriginal)
Almost Home (a weird song; I think Guy Clark is supposed to be the voice of God)

Highlights:
Ace Up Your Pretty Sleeve (the title phrase doesn't work for me, but the song is very nice)
Molly Brown (first rate blues murder ballad about a white / black romance)
Little Brother (a sweet family reminiscence)

Summary: It's hard for this disc to avoid becoming samey throughout.
Grade: B-

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