CMA: Vince Gill Making the Most
of "These Days"
BY JIM MCGUIRE
Nashville recording artist Vince Gill.
2007 CMA Close Up News Service
These days are very good
days for Vince Gill. Over the course of his incredible 30-year career,
he's certainly experienced both sides of this fickle business of
music. But Gill has remained steadfast in one thing - his passion
for making music. Well, maybe two things - he has also managed to
hold on to his wonderful sense of humor through it all.
Both qualities are in evidence on the Platinum-selling These Days,
a panoramic four-CD, 43-song set that captures the eclectic musical
styles that have characterized Gill's work over the course of 19
No. 1 singles, three Platinum and six multi-Platinum albums. But
there's something else at work here; or maybe something not at work.
On every track on These Days, Gill seems looser, more at ease and
more willing to cut loose and play than on his previous, more abbreviated
albums. According to Gill, Eric Clapton gets some of the credit.
Back in 2004, the legendary guitarist phoned Gill to request his
presence at Crossroads Guitar Festival in Dallas. And that one call
fired Gill up in a way he hadn't been in quite a while.
"That was a big, life-changing thing for me," Gill recalled.
"Here was someone who saw me as a fellow musician, not as a
Country star, and he's one of the finest musicians who has ever
lived. For him to invite me to this festival as someone whose work
he admired - I was just inspired to go play again."
Approaching the recording process with renewed excitement, Gill
found he couldn't stop. He also found himself really letting go
"If I wanted to be rocking, I let it rock as hard as it wanted
to," he said. "Instead of feeling like there were lines
I shouldn't cross, I took the lines away."
If Clapton was an instigator in this ambitious project, The Beatles
also provided some inspiration. Gill was recording at Nashville's
Blackbird Studios when he noticed a poster advertising three Beatles
albums released in the same year.
"I knew I wasn't going to be satisfied picking 10 songs, and
I was trying to figure out how to not lose all this material we
had done. So I thought, 'Why can't I release all these records since
they're stylistically different from each other?'"
Gill approached Luke Lewis, UMG Nashville Co-Chairman, about the
idea of releasing a Country album, a ballad CD and an up-tempo,
contemporary disc. Lewis loved the idea and suggested adding a fourth
and releasing it all as a boxed set - an unprecedented idea for
a project containing all-new material.
"The idea for the set was born out of necessity," Lewis
said. "We were discussing marketing and Vince said he had more
songs and would like to record them acoustically. He was obviously
on an incredible creative streak, and I would have been a fool to
stop him. I had been involved in marketing a four-CD Johnny Cash
boxed set, so, like most good ideas, it was stolen.
"Vince suggested we work different tracks at different formats,
so we are working singles at Country, Christian, bluegrass and jazz
radio. Vince had very good, definitive ideas about how to market
it, and this collection will be a bargain for consumers. For the
price of two CDs, they will get four, and there is no 'filler.'
I don't know of another artist today who is even capable of writing
and recording 43 great songs in a relatively short period of time
for a collection of this caliber."
These Days, on MCA Nashville, highlights Gill's versatility and
demonstrates his chameleon-like ability to channel vastly different
styles; from Appalachian bluegrass to old-school Country to torch-singing
jazz. He taps into his smoldering side on Workin' on a Big Chill
(The Rockin' Record), while indulging his songwriter side on Little
Brother (The Acoustic Record). The Reason Why (The Groovy Record),
lives up to its nickname with the title track and single with Alison
Krauss and a gorgeous jazz standard with Diana Krall, as well as
appearances from Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, LeAnn Rimes and Trisha
The album's liner notes read like a who's who of music: John Anderson,
Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Phil Everly, Emmylou Harris, Krall, Del
McCoury, Michael McDonald, Gretchen Wilson and many others add their
voices to These Days. Many have worked with Gill before, like Bekka
Bramlett, who lends her considerable chops to "The Rhythm of
the Pourin' Rain." Bramlett sang backup for Gill on his recent
tour as well.
"Working with Vince is always a pleasure," Bramlett said.
"It's a lesson on how to stay true to your music. It's easy
to blow all the whistles and ring all the bells in the studio, so
to keep it organic the way he does is what I admire most about how
he records. I learn a lot from him about how to maintain a professional
Lee Ann Womack, who recorded the wistful "If I Can Make Mississippi"
with Gill for the Country CD, Some Things Never Get Old (The Country
and Western Record), echoes Bramlett's sentiments.
"Vince is one of the best singers and all-around artists we've
ever had in Country," Womack said. "I live to work with
people like him. He makes us look good."
One of the tracks Gill is most pleased with is "Sweet Little
Corrina," which he recorded with Country Music Hall of Fame
member Phil Everly, of the Everly Brothers.
"That song is one of the greatest musical moments of my entire
life," Gill said. "I revere their music so very much.
I am so drawn to that family harmony. When two people sing together
and it becomes one - that's when it's really magic."
That seamless family harmony is apparent on "A River Like You,"
which Gill wrote 22 years ago and dusted off to sing with his daughter,
Jenny Gill. Hearing the resultant blend of their voices brought
a tear to Gill's eye.
"Something happens when people of the same blood sing together,"
Gill said. "Jenny really got to shine and I can't even describe
how much that really undid me . to hear those two voices shake in
exactly the same way - wow."
The project was a family affair in more ways than one, with wife
Amy Grant lending her vocals as well. A duet on Grant's last album
helped Gill loosen up vocally on this project.
"Singing 'Rock of Ages' on Amy's last record, I felt the urge
to let loose, and there was this peace of just freeing myself and
letting go. I said, 'Let's leave no stone unturned. If the amp needs
to go to 12, turn it to 12,' and it was very freeing."
In that spirit Gill recruited string arranger David Campbell to
create charts unlike anything usually heard in Country. Keyboardist
John Hobbs and engineer Justin Niebank also helped Gill push the
production limits, along with talented musicians including Big Al
Anderson. Though he may sound like a perfectionist in the studio,
Gill said he's actually far from it, preferring to see where the
music takes him instead of leading it by the nose.
"Anyone who knows me, knows I live in the moment and fly by
the seat of my pants," he said. "Some people need preparation
and structure. . Amy needs those things. We're total opposites in
that way. She likes knowing what's going to go on. . I just like
reacting to it."
These Days went Platinum in December, a first glimpse of how Gill's
longtime fans reacted to this latest gutsy endeavor. But after releasing
singles in recent years to lukewarm reception at radio, Gill seems
to be at peace with whatever the outcome - as long as he can continue
to make high-quality music that challenges him as an artist and
moves his soul.
"This is an interesting business," he said. "When
you finally get that faucet running, you don't want to turn it off,
you know? I've watched artist after artist, myself included, become
caricatures of themselves because they find something that works
and beat it into the ground. I'm still trying to have hit records
and be as big a part of this as I ever was. But I can't control
it, and I've learned to let go of all that. I believe if I make
a record that sells 10 million or sells 1,000, either way none of
the notes are ever going to change."
On the Web: www.vincegill.com
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