Down to My Last Bad Habit
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
If Don Henley decides to keep the Eagles brand alive after the untimely death of Glenn Frey, extending an invitation to Vince Gill to fill that void would be a logical move. As those who have followed his 40 year and counting career know, Gill boasts a clear, soulful voice, is a world class guitarist (acknowledged by no lesser an icon than Eric Clapton) and writes songs with hooks that easily slot into the peaceful, easy feeling vibe the Eagles took to the bank. Gill is also a prolific tunesmith and although this is his first batch of originals since 2011, it follows 2006’s mammoth four-disc collection of his own material.
He’s in fine fettle for this dozen song (14 on the deluxe edition) return. All are written or co-penned by the veteran and are firmly in his comfort zone of country, slightly blues-tinged rootsy-rock that manages to avoid most of the clichés now baked into the genre. Certainly having drummer/producer Steve Jordan—known for his work with Keith Richards — and stalwart bassist Willie Weeks along for the ride doesn’t hurt, especially when Gill lays into a tough groove for upbeat rockers such as “Take Me Down” and the salacious “Make You Feel Real Good,” the latter a boastful testament to the singer’s continued sexual prowess.
Guests like Cam and Little Big Town appear to support songs that don’t need them to click. Opening with the set’s most immediate zingers like the tough, funky blues groove of the Stones-ish “Reasons for the Tears I Cry” attests that Gill still concocts a snappy hook the equal of anything he has done while getting musically down and dirty. The following title track is another stunning example of how Gill works lyrics into a lovely, reflective blues-tinged ballad that seems to take cues from the Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why.”
Elsewhere he brings in Chris Botti’s trumpet for the no-regrets weeper “One More Mistake I Made” that would have sounded just as impressive and far less sappy without Botti’s input. Gill’s co-write with Ashley Monroe on “My Favorite Movie” shows how his emotional vocals can save even the most by-the-numbers melody and cloying love-is-real lyrics. His previous disc was titled Guitar Slinger so we don’t hear instrumental showboating on this one. And, despite an impressively rootsy, George Jones dedication on “Sad One Comin’ On,” there isn’t much pure country either. Also, the less said about the histrionic, creepy-stalker power ballad “I Can’t Do This” (where the protagonist spies on his ex with her new boyfriend), the better.
If Gill maintained the rawness displayed on a few tracks and added more upbeat tunes, this would have been an edgier return to form. But Gill’s talents sell even the weaker material making this a terrific addition to an already classic catalog. It also indicates that the singer/songwriter/guitarist’s best work may still lie ahead of him.