There are very few voices in country music that are better or equal to that of Vince Gill. When talking about 90s country, it’s always about the likes of Garth Brooks, George Strait and Reba. I feel like people to overlook and under appreciate the work of Vince Gill. He put out some of the finest music of that decade, including a song I would put in my top ten songs of the 90s, “Go Rest High on That Mountain.” I’ve always had a great respect for Gill and his work. I especially admired the way he gracefully bowed out of the spotlight and accepted that his “prime” years were over, something many older artists have trouble coming to terms with. In recent years Gill has settled into a behind the scenes role, helping produce many songs and records for top artists, including Ashley Monroe and Taylor Swift.
Now he’s releasing his first album of new music in five years, after releasing in 2013 a very cool tribute album to Merle Haggard with Paul Franklin, Bakersfield (highly recommend checking this out if you haven’t heard it). This new album is titled Down to My Last Bad Habit and Gill handled everything on it, from the production to the songwriting. It’s an all Vince Gill project. With this in mind and it being Vince Gill, I had pretty high hopes for this album. How could you not be expecting something great? Well it doesn’t exactly live up to my expectations, but I definitely wouldn’t call it bad either.
Vince Gill kicks the album off with the grooving “Reasons For The Tears I Cry.” It’s a soulful, slightly R&B influenced heartbreak tune where Gill is just singing his ass off. It’s not just on this song though, but the entire album. Gill is 110% in the vocal department and may be his best album vocal performance wise. He sounds no different now than he did when he was in the prime of his career. The album’s title track is a slow love ballad about a man who has kicked all of the bad habits that brought him down in the past. But now he only has one bad habit left and that’s his woman. It’s a tad cheesy, but it mostly comes across as heartfelt. It can feel a little 80s at times, but then the steel guitar creeps in and it’s not so bad. A little less production and more steel guitar would have helped make this a better song.
“Me And My Girl” is an upbeat, acoustic-driven tune about driving down a back road with a girl. Upon your first few listens you may not realize this because the instrumentation and Vince Gill are pretty good. But then you listen to the lyrics and this is a cliché filled song no different from the ones churned out on radio all the time. It’s definitely one of the most lackluster efforts on Down To My Last Bad Habit. Gill tackles another love ballad with “Like My Daddy Did.” The song is about a woman who grew up with a terrible dad who left her and her mom at an early age. Now she’s untrusting of men. The man she has met grew up with a great dad who did fun stuff with him like take him fishing and promises to treat her like his daddy did. If you think this sounds saccharine, you are correct. It’s pretty predictable and hard for me to care about.
While the previous two songs are lackluster and boring, there is one song on this album I just flat-out don’t like and that’s “Make You Feel Real Good.” Let’s not beat around the bush here. This song is about having sweaty sex. It’s not the type of song I like to hear from Gill, as it just doesn’t suit him at all. You then have the generic rock production that accompanies it and it just makes for one bad song. I guess even the great ones can have big swings and misses too. Fortunately, Gill gets back on track with “I Can’t Do This.” It’s one of the best tracks on the album, as it hones in on where Gill excels the most and that’s piano-driven ballads. The song is about a man whose love left him and now he has come across her making out with another man in a bar. It absolutely tears him apart and turns him into an emotional mess seeing them together, comparing it to coming upon a car crash. Gill’s soaring vocals add even more emotion and it reminds you of just how damn great he can be at heartbreak ballads.
“My Favorite Movie” is another romantic love ballad. Gill compares having his woman in his arms to his favorite move running through his head. It’s kind of a clunky comparison and a little sappy too. However the production and instrumentation are pretty good, with some lingering steel guitar throughout. This song could have been better, but it’s not terrible. Well-known trumpeter Chris Botti joins Vince Gill on “One More Mistake I Made.” Botti’s trumpet play is definitely the focal point and also the best part of this song. He’s undoubtedly talented. But does this really fit on a country record? It doesn’t help that it overshadows the lyrics completely, which aren’t that good. Outside of the trumpet play, this song is pretty ordinary.
Gill is joined by Little Big Town on “Take Me Down,” the lead single from this album and the first single from Gill in five years. It’s a solid, but unspectacular love song. Little Big Town’s contributions are pretty minimal, as they’re just backing vocals on the chorus. Really I think they’re only on this song to help get it traction at country radio. I’m not going to complain though, as it’s certainly an upgrade over a lot of songs at country radio. My biggest complaint with this song is I wish it didn’t sound like a Foreigner song at times. Just like “I Can’t Do This,” “I’ll Be Waiting For You” allows Vince Gill’s voice to be front and center on the song. The instrumentation is kept light throughout, mixing a combination of acoustic and steel guitar. Cam joins Gill on the song and like Little Big Town on the previous song, is basically just the backing vocal on the chorus (although we hear Cam sing one line). I wish this were a more proper duet, as I think Cam and Gill go together perfectly. Once Cam’s “Mayday” is done at radio in a few months, I could see this song getting pushed as a single.
“When It’s Love” is your standard love song. You can take it or leave it and there’s not much more to say about it. The album closes out with an absolute bang with Gill’s tribute to George Jones, “Sad One Comin’ On.” Hands down the best track on the record, Gill sings about the king of heartbreak and drinking songs. It also doubles as a great heartbreak song, as Gill sings about wanting a sad song with his beer as he drowns his sorrow. Its only appropriate one golden voice sings about another golden voice. Jones was truly one of a kind and I think the Possum would be quite proud of Gill’s tribute.
Overall when it comes to Down to My Last Bad Habit, Vince Gill gets more things right than wrong on it. When Gill gets it right, you really enjoy this album and it reminds you of why Gill is held in such high regard. He clearly still has the magic and his voice is as golden as ever. Just like Dwight Yoakam, Gill is ageless and should be making more music for several years to come. Unfortunately the production and songwriting just lags too much at times on this album to call it a good one. As I said at the beginning, this is an all Vince project and that means both the good and bad fall directly on him. If you’re a fan of Gill, it’s worth a few listens. For everyone else, it’s just a decent record; nothing more, nothing less.