4/5 ‘If it’s a life’s work of songwriting on one record, it’s a life more magical than mysterious, more riveting than rigid, more sensual than serious. It’s a great record’
“I thought this was going to be a songwriter record, not a concept album” Grammy award winning Vince Gill says. “It wound up being more information than I’d envisioned. A friend sent me an email saying, “You could have only written this record after living a 60-year-plus life”. There is truth here and your experience.”
From the offset, this is an album steeped in the vestige of age and nostalgia. Gill’s trajectory earmarks a long period, harmonising with Dire Straits, jamming with Cherry Bombs and caressing The Moody Blues pastoral passages with Americana fused stylising. Touring with The Eagles in 2017, Gill’s music reintroduced itself to the eyes of the millennial audiences and his work transitioned from the USA to the UK, 1993’s No Future in the Pastone of the more arresting country songs. Age has weathered his vocal chords with tidy compassion, When My Amy Prays doubling a George Harrison trick as both soul and love ballad. Written with wife of nineteen years in mind, Amy Grant’s muse enters the song structure with spectral elegance and it has much better singing than any Harrison song too. The album lovingly earmarks the work of the delectable Arthur Lee, Forever Changed calling to Love’s finest album during a year that Lee’s surviving bandmates tour his songs without him.
The album calls to attention the detail and grace Johnny Cash displayed on his later works, I Don’t Wanna Ride The Rails No More evocative of The Man In Black’s hoarier numbers. Staggering in places, The Red Words opens on a plaintive chord, mirthful in melody and monastery. A Letter To My Mama, a slow acoustic burner, shares some lyrical similarities with the jolly, jovial drinking fables Leo Sayer and Gilbert O’Sullivan carried in their works. Wistful in wordery, A World Without Haggard works in funereal atmosphere, while the more upbeat Nothin’ Like A Guy Clark Song offers a restful respite. The Price of Regret calls back to the guitar tunings used by Mark and David Knopfler and while lyrically slight, An Honest Man orchestrates an ornate, upbeat atmosphere.
In every track, a guitar is strummed with ferocity, but never at the expense of the vocals or the melody. The Messiah’s presence is more Zeffirelli than Scorsese, Gill’s surfeit references revering, rather than understanding, the man who died on the Cross. For those less interested in Christian Rock, the album might prove testing, but there is always a sincerity to Gill’s words, and the album is thankfully devoid of soapbox postulating that haunted much of Harrison’s late seventies works.
Behind the spirit of imagery comes the spirit of synergy, which translates through Gill’s gorgeous work. It’s a song selection assured of its place in the symmetry of the rock idiom, a production mindful of the catharsis country rock can offer and elegiac of a writer now in his Autumnal years. If it’s a life’s work of songwriting on one record, it’s a life more magical than mysterious, more riveting than rigid, more sensual than serious. It’s a great record.