Despite 15 Grammy awards, 18 CMA honors (including Entertainer of the Year twice and Song of the Year four times) and 22 million in album sales, Vincent Grant Gill is, at heart, still the Oklahoma kid who picked up a guitar about the time he could walk and never looked back.
On his new album, the 11th for MCA, Next Big Thing, Vince Gill returns to the music he loves and cut his teeth on. Highlights include the barrelhouse rock & roll of the tongue-in-cheek first single, "Next Big Thing," Gill's playful self-critique at the thirst for pop stardom. Other standouts include the autobiographical talking blues of "This Old Guitar And Me," the Beatles/Beach Boys-like harmonies of "Don't Let Her Get Away," the square-dance Cajun reel of "Old Time Fiddle" and the Mexicali guitars on the elegiac "We Had It All." Not to mention a pair of understated ballads with strings in the beautiful "Someday" and the stately "These Broken Hearts."
Gill, who produced himself for the first time, put together a stellar line-up of musicians, then worked them into a live band in the studio. The band included such players as NRBQ guitarist Al Anderson, drummer Chad Cromwell, fiddle player Stuart Duncan, steel guitar player John Hughey, guitarists Mac McAnally and Dean Parks, piano-player Pete Wasner, bassist Willie Weeks, slide guitarist Tom Britt, harmonica/accordion player Jim Hoke and saxophonists Jim Horn and Kirk Whalam. Among the vocalists who guest on the record are wife Amy Grant ("In These Last Few Days"), Emmylou Harris ("Young Man's Town"), Lee Ann Womack ("Two Hearts"), Bekka Bramlett ("From Where I Stand"), Dawn Sears ("Without You"), Michael McDonald ("These Broken Hearts") and Leslie Satcher ("Old Time Fiddle").
"Making a record is all about gathering the right musicians around you," explains Gill. "As a musician myself, I think I bring a little different slant than most artists would. It's still kind of a democratic process."
The album touches on many of Gill's influences, from country to bluegrass, from pop to R&B, from folk to flamenco. There's the country-blues honky-tonk of "Real Mean Bottle," a tribute to Merle Haggard, and the unique songwriting collaboration of Gill and Dean Dillon on "Whippoorwill River" featuring harmony vocals from Gill's 20-year-old daughter Jenny. That song also has a two-minute fade that showcases all the musicians on the song.
The three years since Gill's last album, the multi-Grammy-nominated Let's Make Sure We Kiss Goodbye, have been eventful ones for the country icon. He married fellow superstar Amy Grant on March 10, 2000, and his daughter Corrina Grant Gill was born a year later, on March 12. He took part in a TNT Brian Wilson Tribute, in which he performed show-stopping versions of "Warmth of the Sun" and "Surf's Up" with David Crosby and Jimmy Webb. He undertook a holiday tour with Amy, then last year, co-produced her album, Legacy...Hymns & Faith, joining her on a subsequent six-week concert jaunt, playing guitar as a member of her band.
"Things feel very peaceful right now," says Gill. "And that allows me to be as creative as I can be. This record has let me get my imagination back. The songs are about all sorts of things - they are kind of all over the map from where they came from. I think being settled has allowed me to feel like my old self again."
And while the past few years have been marked by happy events, Gill isn't afraid to show a bittersweet side on songs like the rueful "In These Last Few Days," which features a man looking back upon his life with a mournful Gill solo on mandolin.
"Being 45 years old gives me enough experience to be a little bit reflective," says Gill. "I've lived enough to be able to have that kind of perspective. But I'm also looking ahead, even if I do feel the impact of mortality."
Gill says his wife provided an invaluable perspective during the recording. "She's a real supporter. Just having her tell me she's proud of me and that a song is great. Just having someone to bounce ideas off was important. Without [former producer] Tony [Brown], I needed that input.
"I hope that the honesty of whatever I do comes through. It's all about willing to be open-minded about different kinds of music and to walk down those paths."
Now that Next Big Thing is out, Gill is ready to once more hit the road. Initially he'll tour in some smaller venues - theatres and clubs - in support of the album. Then in the summer of 2003, Gill will resume his normal touring schedule.
"I'm ready to work and have some fun," he concludes. "I'm just reorganizing some of my priorities. I'm not going to let my career lead me around by the nose. I worked awfully hard for an awfully long time. This time, I want to do it my way."
Next Big Thing is pure Vince Gill...doing it his way, as only he can.
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