Vince Gill is getting personal on his new album. Very personal. In some ways, the title Guitar Slinger downplays the heavy themes that Vince confronts on his new twelve-song collection. Songs with names like “If I Die,” “Threaten Me With Heaven” and “When Lonely Comes Around” give an indication that strong feelings will not be ignored. Vince, who wrote or co-wrote every song on this record, took much inspiration from events or people in his own life when writing it and offers a look at the human condition in the process.
Guitar Slinger, which was recorded at Vince’s home studio, is a complex work that deals with, and sometimes questions, human nature. Take “Billy Paul” for example, a thumping outlaw country-inspired tune with a reserved vocal trying to work through the actions of a man Vince knew well. Through the second verse, Vince sings, Said they found a woman dead up in your room/ I hit my knees and prayed it wasn’t true/ Man, it killed me when I found out it was you, before wondering, What made you go crazy, Billy Paul?
“Threaten Me With Heaven,” the album’s first single, is an introspective take on the meaning of one’s passing. With a sad, reflective guitar lead and open chords, the song dives into weighty subject matter. What’s the worst thing that could happen if they say my time is through?, Vince sings with a subtle strength before delivering powerful lines like, I hear angels through the window pane calling my name. “Threaten Me With Heaven” is also one of the finest examples of Vince’s beautiful, instinctive guitar work and where the title, Guitar Slinger, really comes alive.
In many places throughout the record, Vince’s soulful lead guitar work is like a fantasy meeting of Eric Clapton and Brad Paisley. “When The Lady Sings The Blues,” a R&B/blues-infused cut with dancing blues riffs and a thick bass line, pays understated tribute to Billie Holiday while dropping song names like “God Bless This Child” in the last verse. The title-cut “Guitar Slinger,” which opens the record, feasts on a twangy lead theme while offering not one, but two fiery guitar solos over a honky-tonk blues. Well I was livin’ the life of a guitar slinger/Womens and wines and whiskey for dinner/ Oh, I knew I was in trouble the first time I seen her/ I went and married that Contemporary Christian singer, he sings with a little chuckle on the song.
Vince and wife/artist Amy Grant’s love for each other comes out in lines like that as well in other full songs. Amy is a co-writer of three songs on the record and on “True Love,” (written by Amy with a little help from Vince – his words) the couple duets with heartfelt lyrics like, kept hoping inside that true love was waiting.
Though the first two-thirds of Guitar Slinger leans heavily on the blues, Vince finishes out the record with four stone-cold traditional country songs. “The Old Lucky Diamond Motel” offers a nostalgic snapshot of a seedy roadstop in ¾-time while “If I Die” (co-written with Ashley Monroe) recalls George Jones as it switches keys from verse to verse and chorus to chorus centered around lines like, If I die drinkin’, that’s just who I am. Vince aches out each line here with classic honky-tonk soul, further reminding the listener that with honest songwriting and steadfast emotion, a bluesy guitar slinger can evoke solid country gold.