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Vince Gill might be the best guitar player out there who gets left out of “best guitarist” conversations. This despite his turning down a gig in Dire Straits, earning five Grammys for instrumentals (out of his 20 total), and being versatile enough to play alongside guys like Chet Atkins, Eric Clapton, and Joe Bonamassa. Hell, the guy even sat in with Alice Cooper recently.
Guitar Slinger is not a self-indulgent guitar-nut record, however, which will make sense to long-time fans drawn to Gill’s reserved style. Gill has always served the song first.
Guitar Slinger’s 11 well-crafted songs are anchored in country, but were allowed to go musically where the lyrics directed them. The soul-searching “Threaten Me with Heaven” builds on gospel vocals and benediction-type B-3 before erupting into one of the grittiest and emotive guitar solos Gill has recorded. “Billie Paul” dishes up some classic, flanger-heavy, outlaw-era guitar. “If I Die” probes the drinkin’, cheatin’, and redeemin’ depths of traditional country that you no longer find on the radio these days. The tear-drenched steel guitar and bluegrass-tight harmonies that galvanize the song’s authenticity are also found on “Buttermilk John,” which is a tribute to Gill’s late, long-time steel player, John Hughey, and expertly played in Hughey’s style by Paul Franklin. Fans wanting more cuts in that vein will find them as bonus tracks on the album’s Deluxe Edition.
A number of songs, like “Who Wouldn’t Fall in Love with You” and “Tell Me Fool,” register within that soulful/bluesy/Adult Contemporary vibe that Bonnie Raitt perfected and Warren Haynes dipped into recently. This is not an album for splitting 5-CD shuffle time with Vai, Satch, Yngwie, and Johnson, but as a solid Vince Gill record offering even more guitar goodness than usual, Guitar Slinger lives up to its name.
Must-hear track: “Buttermilk John”