CD Review of These Days by Vince Gill

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These Days
starstarstarstarno star Label: MCA Nashville
Released: 2006
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Vince Gill is a monstrously underrated guitar player, a talented songwriter, and a distinctive vocalist who has racked up dozens of hit singles and awards over the course of his long career.

That being said, Gill’s albums tend to be of the decidedly unspectacular variety. They’re exceedingly pleasant listening experiences, especially if you prefer your country with a smooth pop veneer, but as well-crafted as they always are, his records are collections of songs, not statements. He’s a member of the reliable old Nashville guard, a guy you can count on to release ten solid songs every two or three years.

Which is another way of saying that nothing Vince Gill’s ever done has suggested he was capable of These Days, a sprawling, four-disc set of new material. Even if the songs sucked, Gill would at least deserve recognition for coming to the table with this many songs. Happily, in typical Gill fashion, they’re uniformly solid; These Days is not a collection that will change your life, but it might change the way a few people think about country music, and it’s all awfully easy on the ears.

The discs are divided along thematic lines. The first, subtitled “Workin’ on a Big Chill,” consists of uptempo numbers; they’re allegedly rockers, but Gill’s honeyed tenor is too polite to really rock. Having said that, he does manage to approximate a rock & roll vibe at least half the time, and acquits himself reasonably well the other half. Disc Two, “The Reason Why,” is made up of moody ballads that straddle the line between adult alternative and country. The last two discs, “Some Things Never Get Old” and “Little Brother,” feature contemporary and trad country sounds, respectively.

Throughout, Gill surrounds himself with high-profile guests – Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Michael McDonald, Del McCoury, Guy Clark, Lee Ann Womack, Patty Loveless, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Phil Everly, and Gill’s wife Amy Grant all make appearances, and that isn’t even the whole list – but the effect is never disjointed or showy, and each cameo makes sense within the context of the song.

Of further interest to inveterate music nerds will be the heavy involvement of former NRBQ principal Al Anderson, who co-wrote and played on a number of songs across all four discs. Anderson’s presence is one of those seemingly minor details that most listeners won’t notice or care about, but it’s further proof that Gill, in his unassuming way, knew exactly what he was doing when he gathered his crew for These Days. The entire collection has a casual, loose feel, but it was assembled by craftsmen.

Whether you like country music or hate it, if you love music, you’d do well to grab a copy of These Days; it certainly isn’t often that an artist who’s nearly fifteen albums into his solo career decides to go this balls-out, and such adventurousness should be rewarded. Don’t do it for Vince Gill – he’s already laughing himself to sleep on mounds of money anyway, and even if this set sells zero copies, that won’t change. Do it for music in general. There isn’t enough of this kind of freewheeling going on in the record industry anymore.

~Jeff Giles