There’s not much that Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill hasn’t done. It seemed as though he went even further to ensure such a distinction when he began touring with country-rock forerunners the Eagles a couple of years ago. He’s as decorated of a country performer as there has ever been thanks to his many boatloads of Grammys, ACMs and CMA trophies, and with untold number of walls plastered with platinum and gold plaques, he’s proven over decades to be a master at balancing the critical acclaim with commercial success.
Gill’s latest studio LP, Okie, his first in three years, is yet another bullet point to fit under the “He Didn’t Have to Do This But He Did Anyway” section of his bio. It’s an intensely personal collection of songs, and it happens to be a sterling one at that. As is the case with other master songwriters, such as Jason Isbell and Hayes Carll, Gill uses some songs to intimately tell his own story while some songs are colorful tales of fiction.
The firm beat and strong assured acoustic strums of “The Price of Regret” features Gill’s trademark tenor singing “everyone’s broken, everyone’s scarred, all the things we needed, wind up in the yard.” As dreary as such a scenario seems on paper, it comes off as improbably hopeful through Gill’s expertly developed filter. In the slow, quiet “An Honest Man,” the lyrics “Let them cowboys be the heroes, I’ll just be an honest man,” ring humbly true.
The songs where Gill dons a narrator’s hat are well-done, if a bit less impactful. “Forever Changed” is a pensive paint ballad detailing a girl’s life of suffering abuse, while the swampy, electric blues jam “That Old Man of Mine” recounts the life-altering, violent night a son had finally had enough of “the meanest bastard I’d ever seen.”
It’s worth remembering that Gill’s gorgeous singing voice is every bit the vital instrument to his music that a guitar is. That’s saying a lot, since Gill can likely turn a wet shoebox with work out rubber bands into the most blazing Telecaster ever heard. The album’s heart can be found where Gill’s own heart lies. The listener is allowed to peek behind the curtains of his well-documented marriage to beloved singer Amy Grant in both “The Red Words” and “When Amy Prays.” The former is a slightly upbeat ode to the lessons he’s learned from not only the Bible, but from his wife, while the latter is a heart-stopping beauty that, with perhaps Gill’s strongest vocals on the entire record, details “when my Amy prays, that’s when I see his face.”
As personal as the love and admiration he has for his wife, so to is his adoration and appreciation for some of the country legends that have recently passed. In “Nothing Like a Guy Clark Song,” Gill applies the sort of top-notch craftsmanship the late songwriting icon applied to his songs and custom-built guitars. Calling out Clark signatures such as “stuff that works,” “homegrown tomatoes” and “a Randall knife,” Gill pays tribute in a unique way that Clark would surely treasure. The same can be said for “Lost in a World Without Haggard,” in which Gill sings “I thought he’d live forever, he shaped every note that I played.”
Vince Gill certainly didn’t have to record Okie for us to know he’s one of the greats. But because he did, we now know his more intimately than we ever have before.