After a long and musically productive spell of writing, touring and recording with other artists, Oklahoma native Vince Gill is turning his focus back to his solo career with his first single in four years: “Threaten Me With Heaven,” which MCA Nashville has announced will be released on Aug. 29.
The song is the lead-off single from his forthcoming album, “Guitar Slinger,” due out Oct. 25. It will be his first album of original material since he released his Grammy-winning four-CD collection “These Days” in October 2006. “These Days” included 43 songs, was certified platinum, won the 2006 Grammy for Best Country Album and received an overall Grammy Album of the Year nomination.
“The running gag is ‘How many songs are on this one? Do you have an eight-CD record?’” Gill told me with a laugh in an interview earlier this year. “At the end of the day, I just showed up with the songs I showed up with for this new record. And at this point in life, to me, the real success is measured in my own improvement, not in how many records get sold or if they get played on the radio. My records don’t get played on the radio as much as they used to; I wish they did but they don’t. I never quit hoping that will happen again, but if it doesn’t that’s OK, too. It never has defined the results of these records.
“The last three or four records I’ve made, I’ve felt like I made great strides in improving — better songs, better singing, better playing, better grooves, better feel, better sound. … There’s so many ways to find yourself getting better at what you’re doing. It may not get noticed like it did before, but you can’t let that be your barometer and your definition of whether it’s good or not.”
The Norman-born, Oklahoma City-bred singer/songwriter/musician co-wrote “Threaten Me With Heaven” with his wife, singer/songwriter Amy Grant, along with Dillon O’Brian and Will Owsley.
“Since the song was recorded, my friend Will Owsley took his own life, so the song has a profound impact on me now,” said Gill in a news release. “In my lifetime, ‘Go Rest High On That Mountain’ has been the song that helped a lot of people through their grief. I think this one will in turn hopefully do the same thing. It’s a powerful, powerful song. I feel like it’s the crown jewel of the new record.
And that’s quite a statement, considering that this album includes some of the most poignant and moving songs of his career, such as “Bread and Water” and “If I Die,” along with “When Lonely Comes Around,” another song he penned with Owsley and Grant.
But the album also features fun, upbeat songs as well, and serves as a great showplace for his guitar playing. Gill wrote or co-wrote every song on the album, which was the first project recorded from start to finish at his new home studio. “Guitar Slinger” includes two tracks he wrote with Ashley Monroe – currently of the Miranda Lambert trio Pistol Annies – and a ballad called “True Love” he penned with wife that features their daughter Sarah singing on it.
It will just be one CD, but Gill told me in our January interview that he can hear improvements in his songcraft on “Guitar Slinger.”
“There’s one song on there called ‘The (Old) Lucky Diamond Motel’ that’s all about this fictitious place on Route 66 that just completely kills me ‘cause it’s the first song that I wrote after I finished the ‘These Days’ record and it’s totally different than anything I did on that whole record. So I went ‘Oh, neat. You didn’t go back and repeat yourself, you did something different like you’ve never done before,’” he said.
While “These Days,” featured an array of guest stars, including Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall, Bonnie Raitt, along with fellow Oklahomans Trisha Yearwood and Katrina Elam, he kept his duets on the new album strictly a family affair. His wife, Amy Grant, and Jenny Gill again sing with him on “Guitar Slinger,” but they aren’t the only ones.
“My daughter Corrina, who is 9, is making her singing debut on this record, singing with me. You know, she watches an awful lot of Disney Channel, and I’m trying to steer her to the blues side of music,” he told me. “And I had this song, this friend of mine, another friend of mine, that last year had a real rough stretch and unfortunately he murdered a woman and then took his own life a short time after that. He was one of my golfing buddies, and I wrote this song for him called ‘Billy Paul.’”
He played the song in the car one morning while driving the girl to school, and she wanted to hear it again and asked if it was based on a true story.
“I played it again, and by the time it was finished, she was back there just singing like a bird. … She was really taken with this song, and it’s a song about the whole of what happened. You know, very dark. So I had this idea of what it would be like if she sang on it. It would either be really haunting or really horrible,” he said with a laugh.
“So I took her into the studio and she sang along with me, and it’s really haunting. So, I wanted to get just a little bit of Disney Channel out of her brain, and now to have her first song be a murder-suicide ballad in the great tradition of country music, I asked Amy, ‘Is this really wrong?’ And she was like, ‘No it’s really great, it’s really awesome.’”
Gill has sold more than 26 million albums, won 20 Grammys and 18 CMA Awards, including Entertainer of the Year twice. He has been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
In recent months, the congenially collaborative Gill has jammed with rocker Alice Cooper at a Nashville Predators game, backed Keb Mo, Crystal Bowersox and Sarah Darling on their individual Grand Ole Opry debuts and recorded with the Blind Boys of Alabama and blues guitarist and singer Joe Bonnamassa. He recently appeared on the CBS-TV tribute special “Girls’ Night Out: Superstar Women of Country.” His duet with fellow Oklahoma native Carrie Underwood of “How Great Thou Art” has been viewed on YouTube by more than 6 million people.
On Saturday, Gill celebrated his 20th anniversary with the Grand Ole Opry with a special Opry show featuring Grant, Jenny Gill, EmmyLou Harris, Martina McBride, “Little Jimmy” Dickens and The Time Jumpers. To see photos and read about the celebration show, click here.