Album Review – Vince Gill’s “Down To My Last Bad Habit”

vince-gill

Vince Gill is the perfect model of how a country artist should age. Forget trying to run with the young crowd, or continuing to try and tap into whatever made you famous in the past. An artist like Vince Gill has accrued all the personal wealth he and his family will ever need. He’s as decorated with awards as any living country music artist, including a Hall of Fame induction, and he might be one of the most universally-respected guys in the entire business. Vince Gill is buds with Paul Franklin and Taylor Swift. Nobody has worked harder to help support the Country Music Hall of Fame than him, and if he wasn’t cool enough, upon occasion you can see him for a nominal cover charge playing with the Time Jumpers in Nashville. Vince Gill is the honorary mayor of country music.

But I have little to no use for this record, I suspect you won’t either, and it’s questionable why the effort was exhausted even to have it made. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad record. There’s not a “bad” song on it. Actually when you talk about the songs themselves, there’s quite a few good ones here. But why slog through the production of this album when there’s so many other great songs and albums out there, including many from Vince Gill?

Despite the name maybe implying that this album may have a little bit of edge, Down To My Last Bad Habit is Vince Gill’s Luther Vandross moment. This is a country music album for 50-year-old women who are addicted to scented candles. This is the Oprah Book Club version of country. This is the daytime television version of country, meaning it’s really not country at all. Down To My Last Bad Habit made me want to get a vasectomy and a sweater with cats on it, and join Pinterest.

But if you want me to complain about Vince Gill’s contributions on this record or say that the songwriting was lacking, I can’t do it. The songs are a little mawkish in stretches, but styled a different way, some of these songs would make excellent country songs, including the title track. And honest to God, this might be Gill’s greatest singing performance he’s ever recorded in the studio save for “Go Rest High On That Mountain.” Vince Gill sings the hell out of these songs, it’s just so non-country, and so not what we’re used to from classic Vince, it’s hard to appreciate fully.

vince-gill-down-to-my-last-bad-habitWe asked the question how Vince Gill got a new album released by MCA Nashville when virtually the rest of their roster is stuck in endless delayed release hell, and I think we have our answer. Just as so much of country music is going in an R&B direction with artists like Thomas Rhett, Brett Eldredge, and even fellow MCA label mate Gary Allan, so has Vince. But instead of trying to be the second coming of Bruno Mars, Vince Gill turned in his age-appropriate version of the R&B craze. But what’s crazy about this is Vince Gill produced this album himself in his home studio, and wrote many of the songs solo.

Richard Marx also turned in a couple of co-writes, which only makes sense considering the vibe of this record feels very late 80’s during Marx’s performing heyday. Even Chris Botti—the Kenny G of jazz trumpet—is credited on “One More Mistake I Made” like a duet partner. Down To My Last Bad Habit is a late 80’s adult contemporary record if there ever was one. It’s more 80’s Hot AC than most 80’s Hot AC records. Nonetheless, with a songwriting credit on every track including five solo writes and sole producer credits, this is Vince Gill’s album cover to cover and he owns it, so no blaming some Nashville super-producer for the direction or outcome.

What’s also strange is how little banter about this strange sonic direction came from Vince ahead of the release. He wasn’t singing the praises of the strong influences 80’s R&B had on his career. He did talk about wanting to cut songs with a deeper and darker message, and no doubt he does this compared to his major label contemporaries. Take the production away and songs like “I Can’t Do This” and “One More Mistake I Made” aren’t just acceptable, they’re bordering on brilliant. But the music is what clothes the words. It’s not even that this music is bad, it’s just not relevant to either Vince Gill or the sensibilities of today.

There are some more country moments though. “Me and My Girl” would pass as a soft country song on most records, “Like My Daddy Did” and a couple of other tracks feature some steel guitar and slightly more sedated and country vocal signals as opposed to the high-register and highly-embellished R&B runs. And the album ends with a very country and very good song called “Sad One Comin’ On (A Song for George Jones).” But this George Jones tribute almost nags at you as a country fan, reminding you what Vince is capable of, but waits until the very last moment to deliver on this record.

Vince Gill deserves some credit here. We can question his vision with this album, but he accomplished what he set out to do, which was make a record that emphasized his vocal strengths, and re-imagines a previous era in music in the modern context while delivering deep, meaningful songwriting. But as country fans and a Vince Gill fans, this is an emasculated and somewhat disappointing effort that’s probably not worth listening to after the first pass.

One Gun Up (5/10)