Vince Gill

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Vince Gill

These Days (MCA)

Vince Gill is destroying his reputation in the best way possible. After Eric Clapton invited the underrated six-stringer to his Crossroads guitar-god summit in Dallas, 2005, the Nashvillian shucked his new-country balladeer shoes for some ass-kickin' boots. These Days is one of the most ambitious artistic statements of the year, a 4-CD box set of all-new material apportioned across roots genres and complemented by a rock-solid roster of guests from Bonnie Raitt to Rodney Crowell. "The Rockin' Record" disc sounds like vintage Delbert McClinton, more than living up to its name with gutbucket blues, rave-up shuffles, brassy R&B horns, and loads of sexual innuendo. "The Groovy Record" feels like a stale step backward, and even smoldering songbird Diana Krall can't ignite watered-down torch songs like "Faint of Heart." The country & western set is stone barroom jukebox material, courtesy of Emmylou Harris collaboration "Some Things Never Get Old" and Patty Loveless pairing "Out of My Mind." The acoustic fourth disc is an ace closer, with "Molly Brown" a haunting elegy of an interracial romance snuffed out by violence and the starkest example of Gill's emboldened artistic vision. "All Prayed Up" and Del McCoury duet "Cold Gray Light of Gone," meanwhile, are bluegrass distillations of mortality and pain. If Vince Gill picks up again where soul-searching Guy Clark duet "Almost Home" leaves off, his grits-and-grease commitment could bury his fading milquetoast Music City image for good.

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