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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Gill treats fans to a listening party

House of Blues, West Hollywood, Cal., Feb. 4, 2003

By Dan MacIntosh

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - On more than one occasion, Vince Gill referred to this rare small club performance on the Sunset Strip as a live listening party for his about-to-be-released "Next Big Thing" album.

And due to its hefty middle section, packed with 13 of the new album's 17 songs and a slew of appropriate stories to go along with these fresh tunes, Gill's easygoing interaction with this packed house carried with it the undeniable feel of a casual listening party for a few hundred of his closest friends.

Gill had every reason to act the proud parent this night, as he spoke, sang and played with a pride similar to how he must certainly feel about his new daughter, Corrina. He introduced these newborn songs in much the same way a father tells others (even strangers) about the latest editions to his family - with intimate and sometimes funny stories.

One love song, "She Never Makes Me Cry," for example, was inspired by words Julia Roberts' character spoke to George Clooney's character in the film "Oceans Eleven." Gill relayed to the audience how he put down his popcorn just long enough to scribble this song idea onto a piece of paper, before turning his attention back to the film.

A few of Gill's newest offerings were presented as song tributes to his musical heroes. "Real Mean Bottle" rattled and rolled like a semi from Bakersfield, Cal., as it praised Merle Haggard's songwriting skills, and "You Ain't Foolin' Nobody" had the gut-level feel of a Waylon Jennings soul-barer.

The title track and "Young Man's Town" both commented on the transitory nature of the music business, while "Old Time Fiddle" and "This Old Guitar And Me" spoke endearingly of Gill's lifelong love affair with music.

Most touching of all, however, was a hushed ballad called "In These Last Few Days," which recounted till-death-do-us-part love between a man and a woman. Gill sings it with his wife, Amy Grant, on the new album.

Although Gill is still hip enough to host the CMA Awards annually, such popularity has never threatened to chase the pure country out of his playing. This night, he switched easily from electric to acoustic guitar, intermittently picked up a mandolin, and sang wonderfully with that high and lonesome voice of his.

It also wasn't hard to pick up on the tight relationship he has with his band, which supported him with plenty of fiddle, steel guitar and keyboard sounds. You're left with the impression after watching his show, that country is what Gill is, and not just what he does.

Gill opened this approximately two-and-a-half hour show with seven familiar songs, and closed the evening out with another slew of favorites. But it was his so-called live listening party at the center of the set that made tonight's concert into something truly special.