“This didn’t start out as a set of four very different CDs,” is how this project’s CD booklet begins. “There was no plan to record 43 original songs and gather them into an unprecedented offering of diverse, accomplished artistry,” it continues. Well, that’s for darn sure! Four complete CDs is a healthy box set for many artists, but usually not a singular offering for most. Gill’s intention was to throw together a few hardcore country tunes, some bluegrass touches, and a little gospel –- he is married to contemporary Christian queen, Amy Grant, after all. But These Days turned out to be no ordinary project, not even by eclectic Vince Gill standards.
Disc One is subtitled “The Rockin’ Record”, although that title is a misnomer. Gill is a lead guitarist extraordinaire, but he has never been a loud rocker. He doesn’t cross over into Southern rock territory the way, say, Charlie Daniels can. A better title would have been “The Electrified Blues Record” because horns pump up the groove for “Love’s Standin’”, and Gill’s playing is mostly of the B.B. King, stinging guitar variety. This disc only breaks out into honest to goodness rock & roll on “Nothin’ for a Broken Heart”, where Gill shares vocals with Rodney Crowell. Bluegrass great Del McCoury sings with Gill on “Son of a Ramblin’ Man”, but the banjo in its mix is a mountain music dead give away of the track’s true stylistic origins. There’s also plenty of mandolin on it, too. Michael McDonald lends his distinctive pipes to “Smilin’ Song”, Bekka Bramlett joins in on the acoustic guitar-backed “The Rhythm Of The Pourin’ Rain”, and the swinging “Nothin’ Left To Say” closes out the set’s first disc.
Disc Two is subtitled “The Groovy Record”. Its 13 songs are filled with a large group of guest vocalists—all women. Two of these gals are special in Gill’s life. “Tell Me One More Time about Jesus” includes his wife, Amy Grant, and his daughter Jenny Gill is his duet partner for “Time to Carry On”. The rest of this girl club is mostly made up of country singers, like LeAnn Rimes, Alison Krauss, and Trisha Yearwood. One of the vocal wild cards, however, is the piano bar saloon song, “Faint of Heart”, where jazz vocalist Diana Krall partners up with Gill.
Steel guitar and duel fiddles introduce “This New Heartache”, the opener for Disc Three. If that isn’t enough of a clue, Gill’s lyrical line about hitting his first glass of whiskey ought to reveal once and for all that this piece of auditory software is “The Country & Western Record”. Gill’s vocal friends include old pal Patty Loveless, Emmylou Harris, Lee Ann Womack, Dan Tyminski, and Alison Krauss a second time. There’s a hopping number titled “Sweet Little Corrina”, which features Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers fame. Its rockabilly-lite rhythm makes it the musical twin brother of “Wake Up Little Suzie”, so it fits perfectly with the rest of the Everly Brothers’ repertoire. The disc closes with a chugging “Take This Country Back”, a duet with John Anderson. Its lyric about too many dime store cowboys and not enough Nudie suits is like marching orders for traditional country music fans dedicated to taking their favorite musical genre back.
The last member of this box set is referred to as “The Acoustic Record”. But it is really mainly bluegrass music. The opener, “All Prayed Up”, is a banjo plucking, fiddle bowing, acoustic strumming gospel rave-up. The Del McCoury Band backs Gill for “Cold Gray Light of Gone”, and returns as his group for “Give Me the Highway”. His daughter Jenny sings with him again during “A River Like You”, and Rebecca Lynn Howard is the female vocal presence of “Girl”. The CD closes with “Almost Home”, a duet with troubadour Guy Clark.
This package is a whole lot of Vince Gill music, but because the performer makes it sound so easy and natural, nothing is forced or like filler. These days are certainly happy ones for Vince Gill fans.