Last fall, he released a four-CD disc, "These Days," with each disc covering a different genre - traditional country, bluegrass, romantic bedroom music and rock. For an artist with not a tremendous commercial upside at this point, releasing an album of such proportions underscores the respect that his label has for the artistry of Gill. While Gill has yet to enjoy any hit singles, the disc received many excellent reviews and has sold well.
Fortunately, Gill hit the road last fall and received strong fan support, so strong that he decided to extend the tour into 2007. This show was the second in Lowell after a show last Friday that sold out quickly.
But beyond sales and folks coming out to shows remains the ultimate job of putting on a show, and, once again, Gill was his usual excellent self through great singing, playing, song selection, staging and an incredibly humorous stage presence that never grows old.
Setting up for what was to come, Gill started by playing a bunch of familiar songs, starting with "Liza Jane," "Don't Let Our Love Start Slippin' Away," "Oklahoma Borderline" and "The Next Big Thing" (which seems to hit home for Gill in that it talks about Nashville always looking for something new, shunting the tried and true aside).
Gill then launched into playing stretches of songs from each of the four discs with only a few old hits interspersed. He smartly introduced almost every song, acknowledging to his fans later that they deserved credit for sitting through so much new material. Gill excelled at the traditional country songs, slow weepers, which sounded excellent. In fact, Gill showcased his talents to good effect in all genres. During the bluegrass segment, Gill and a quartet gathered around a lone mic in typical bluegrass style.
While during a show last fall in support of "These Days" in Worcester, Gill's reading of the jazzy "Faint of Heart" was unsatisfactory - he didn't sound like he ought to be singing jazz (on the album Diana Krall sings with Gill) - he turned in a much stronger reading this time.
Throughout Gill's singing was almost dead on - he's real easy on the ears. Of course, he always has been an excellent guitar player, and he showed off more of it tonight than he did last fall.
Gill is touring with a very large band of about 15 support musicians. A horn section particularly enlivened the songs, often giving a bit of a soulful or bluesy feel. Many of the band members are veterans, and it shows. They are a well-oiled machine, but never ever go through the motions.
Perhaps the greatest attribute of Gill is his ability to be one unbelievably funny, folksy raconteur. He repeated some stories or parts thereof from the fall - especially about a 10-minute long intro to "The Key of Life" - about his father, who sounded like one tough character, but someone Gill respected and from him learned lessons of life.
Most of the patter clearly seemed to be off the cuff. All of a sudden, something goes off in Gill's head, and he has a great story to tell. Funny ones included having an off night in Washington with Gill and his band going to a karaoke bar. A bar patron sitting next to Gill encouraged him to sing, but he said he really couldn't and was shy. Finally, he got up there, sounding awful on purpose before he finally "did a Stevie Wonder" on the woman, leaving her to think he was good once he lost his nervousness. Gill fessed up, and the bottom line is the woman now goes to his concerts when he's in Washington.
Gill clearly wasn't operating under any time constraints, with the two sets and encore clocking in at 3:20 hours. Yet, it didn't feel long as Gill and band were obviously having a grand old time being on stage whether playing old or new songs. But fortunately he didn't hog all the joy because once again Gill demonstrated that you needn't be on the top of the charts to continually prove your mettle and leave your fans smiling.