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Vince Gill

Guitar Slinger – 2011 (MCA Nashville)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

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CDs by Vince Gill

It's hard to believe, considering what Vince Gill has accomplished over the past three decades, but the triple threat singer-songwriter-guitar picker may be in the most creative, productive stretch of his lengthy, remarkable career. Five years after Gill's Grammy-winning 4-album 43-song box set "These Days," his latest 12-song release again finds Gill tapping every ounce of his immense talents. The title song sums up his reputation as an ax man worthy of playing Eric Clapton's Crossroads guitar love-in, but once past the six-string chops it's again apparent just how good this guy is with a pen.

Threaten Me With Heaven and Bread and Water are among the most gut-wrenching ballads that Gill has ever written. He paints a scene straight off a Saturday night along Route 66 with the mandolin-laced The Old Lucky Diamond Motel, then follows with the stone cold country If I Die, and the weepy six-minute homage to steel guitarist John Hughey on Buttermilk John.

Pulling it all together is Gill's familiar sweet tenor, shifting easily as always from blues to pop to country. Gill can still melt hearts (albeit on a slightly older crowd than years past) with True Love, a duet with his wife Amy Grant, and then brings in 9-year-old daughter Corrina for her debut on the dark murder ballad Billy Paul. Wife-love ballad, OK; daughter-murder ballad ... baptism by fire for a future in country music?

Creativity is not an easy thing to sustain across 30-plus years, but with his 23rd release, Gill has proven again that average just doesn't cut it.