Album Review: Vince Gill - "Guitar Slinger"
By: Dan MacIntosh
Vince Gill’s Guitar Slinger is a good old fashioned country album. (That’s a compliment, by the way). Its songs address a lot the biggest questions in life, such as heaven, hell, sin, salvation and all that sorta messy stuff. In the wrong hands, such subject matter might come off preachy. In Gill’s capable guitar slinging hands, though, it’s never less than beautifully touching.
There a few truly pitiful characters studied during this thoughtful work. One poor soul named Billy Paul – in a song of the same name – chronicles the life of a man who ends up committing murder, and the narrator wonders why it all went so wrong. Then with “Bread and Water,” Gill sings about the essentials of life through the story of a homeless man. “Threaten Me With Heaven,” one of this album’s most touching songs, speaks frankly about death and how the afterlife is not a future to be feared. One of its four songwriters was Will Owsley, who later committed suicide. One has to wonder if he was contemplating this final act while he was writing the lyric. It’s simply chilling.
Although this album gets deadly serious during its many sobering moments, it’s also a whole lot of fun in a few places, and sincerely romantic in others. The title track is clearly autobiographical. Before we had Brad Paisley and Keith Urban, Vince Gill proved that some extremely talented guys can bend strings amazingly, in addition to singing equally well. It’s obvious he’s talking about his equally famous wife, Amy Grant, when he tells how he “went and married that contemporary Christian singer” during the album’s hard-charging, guitar strumming and piano pounding title track. That well known “contemporary Christian singer” also joins Gill on the romantic ballad, “True Love.” Its lyric is all about being patient and persistent when it comes to finding Mr. or Mrs. Right. Another happier song is “Who Wouldn’t Fall In Love With You.” This is one of those ‘love at first site’ songs. The moment this angel walks in the room, Gill suggests at one point, he’s helplessly smitten by her. (However, when it comes to Amy Grant, haven’t we all been similarly smitten)?
Oddly enough, Gill doesn’t necessarily sling his guitar around all that much on this new CD. Sure, he shows off a tad on the title track and channels the blues during “When the Lady Sings the Blues.” However, for the most part this is a songs album. Had he called it ‘Story Slinger,’ in fact, he would not have stretched the truth in the least.
Country music fans are proud to talk about the style’s historic emphasis on story songs. Sadly, however, one doesn’t hear nearly enough tales-put-to-twangy-melodies on the radio these days, though. If there’s any justice in the music world, many short story songs from Guitar Slinger will make it onto playlists around the country.
In addition to the high quality songwriting found throughout this new disc, Gill’s high and lonesome singing voice has also never sounded better. Furthermore, traditionalists will find plenty of real country playing on this CD -- not at all the slick Southern pop we’ve come to expect from typical radio songs. For example, “Buttermilk John,” which also features The Jumpers, has a bluesy sadness that leaves it sounding like an undiscovered Hank Williams, Sr. gem. It lyric is about a steel guitar player, and this track is simply saturated in weeping steel guitar work.
Vince Gill refers to himself as a real guitar slinger on this album’s title track. Without question, he has good reason to brag.