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Vince Gill's Four-Disc Musical Journey

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Country music star Vince Gill has gone a little bit rock and roll, not to mention a little blue grass Americana, even jazz on his latest release.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. VINCE GILL (Musician): (Singing) My sweet (unintelligible) comes from old Georgia (unintelligible).

CHADWICK: Here's music critic Christian Bordal to make sense of These Days, Vince Gill's new multi-disc collection.

CHRISTIAN BORDAL: What do you say about an artist putting out an album of four CDs and 43 new songs? Whew!

(Soundbite of song, ”Workin' On The Big Chill”)

Mr. GILL: (Singing) He comes the weekend, so could have used some relaxation to shake these blues. Fill up the cooler with a little good chill. Hand me my sunshade, I'm checking out here. I'm a-working on the big chill. ‘Cause I'm a-working on the big chill.

BORDAL: Vince Gill started out being one of the young country traditionalists in the late ‘70s, playing bluegrass as a youngster and then country rock. He's a breathtaking guitar player, and he got his start in the business working in other people's bands. Then in the ‘90s, he crossed over to record more mainstream, slick country-pop, and he sold a ton. I mean a boatload of records.

(Soundbite of music)

BORDAL: Now this four-CD set, These Days, pays tribute to all these aspects of Gill's musical personality: the country rocker, the bluegrass picker, the slick sentimentalist and the traditional country boy.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GILL: (Singing) You've got legs just like longneck bottle and lips just like strawberry wine.

BORDAL: There's a host of wonderful guests on these CDs, including Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Allison Krauss, Doobie Brother Michael McDonald. The surprising thing is how underused they are. In many cases, they do nothing but harmonize. Gill's a good singer, but his voice is pretty generic. So when one of these great artists is singing on a track, I find myself frustrated not to hear them interpret the material alongside him. Diana Krall is one of the few guests to actually duet with Gill on the jazzy Faint of Heart.

(Soundbite of song, “Faint of Heart”)

Mr. GILL: (Singing) Love ain't for faint of heart, timid and the weak.

Ms. DIANA KRALL (Musician): (Singing) Pour me one more on the rocks, and baby, we'll just see.

BORDAL: The musicianship on these CDs is virtuosic. There's never a stray note or breath. But too many of these songs end up sounding overly clean and canned and drippingly sentimental.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GILL: (Singing) You know when to let me be, pull yourself real close to me, and how to take my breath away.

BORDAL: To me, the highlights of this album come when Gill subverts his commercial instinct and replaces it with traditional, less varnished, genre pieces like the country rockin' Sweet Thing, or the flyin' bluegrass of All Prayed Up - which leads off the acoustic album.

(Soundbite of song, “All Prayed Up”)

Mr. GILL: (Singing) I made my peace with Jesus a long, long time ago, trusted him that he would save my soul. I walk up there beside him, he guides me on my way. I know he hears me when I kneel and pray…

CHADWICK: Music critic Christian Bordal comes to us from member station KCRW in Santa Monica, California.

(Soundbite of song, “All Prayed Up”)

Mr. GILL: (Singing) I'm all prayed up, my faith will never (unintelligible). Yeah, this old door shoot wide open when I die. I ain't afraid of Satan, his wicked ways of sin. He tempted me, but he couldn't pull me in. When I go on down to Jesus and face my judgement day, he'll give me the promise that he made. I'm all prayed up…

CHADWICK: And there's more to come on DAY TO DAY. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.