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Next Big Thing ()

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Vince Gill's studio offering following his paean to his new bride, Let's Make Sure We Kiss When We Say Goodbye, is one of his strongest recordings in a decade. Perhaps it's the freedom from the usual Nashville production bullsh*t -- Gill produced the album himself. His cast of players and singers is a veritable list of stars, including Emmylou Harris, Lee Ann Womack, the Doobie Brothers' Michael McDonald, life partner Amy Grant, Kim Keyes, Andrea Zonn, and Leslie Satcher. Famed producer and engineer Justin Niebank is at the mixing desk, and Gill's regular band propels a mixed bag of pop, boogie, swing, and neo-trad country tunes -- and odd for a Nash Vegas album, there are 17 of them, not ten or 12. Standout tracks are the rollicking title with its booming guitars; the mariachi-tinged "We Had It All"; the slow country stroll of "Young Man's Town," despite its sweeping strings and electric violin moan; and the stunning ballad "These Broken Hearts," with McDonald adding a depth of emotion rarely matched on Gill's records. There is also the Merle Haggard tribute "Real Mean Bottle" that features the opening guitar lines to "Mama Tried." But it's far from syrupy -- it's a tough song about a tougher, more visionary man than the singer could ever hope to be, sung in an unflinching manner. All of this said, there are the now-requisite Gill saccharine tracks such as "Whippoorwill River," an insufferable homage to his father that drowns in syrup. The hardcore honky tonk rock of "The Sun's Gonna Shine on You" is one of the strongest cuts on any Gill album, full of shuffling blues and rockabilly swagger. "Old Time Fiddle" is a cross-pollination of Cajun music and bluegrass that works surprisingly well considering how slick it is -- perhaps it's the layered accordions and the organic-sounding percussion. The album closes with "In These Last Few Days," another ballad; Gill always makes records that are at least 60/40 ballads to up-tempo tunes, and this track is that forlorn, bittersweet ballad that seems to close every record of his. But lyrically it's so strong and vulnerable that it works, leaving the listener haunted with the notion that something special has occurred, that he or she has born witness to a man becoming aware of the preciousness of his own life. In all, it's a strong effort. It's nice to see established artists reclaim control of their careers -- especially when the results are so rewarding. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi Hide synopsis

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