Vince Gill ranks among the most gifted and versatile guitar players on the planet, and boasts one of the truest upper-range voices of any male vocalist in any genre. When he contributes to, say, Mark Knopfler's solo records, their collaborations are sure to rank among the highlights of the album. He is, by all accounts, a genuinely kindhearted gentleman from Oklahoma, and is married to Christian-rock goddess Amy Grant.
So what's not to like? Gill's solo oeuvre, and the chardonnaying of Nashville that's ensued in its wake.
I like a four-hanky ballad as much as--okay, probably a lot more than--the next guy. And Gill has sung his share of stellar ballads, including "When I Call Your Name," which tightly toe twang's line. But check out the fucking mullet on Gill. While mullets have long been embraced by country fans, they're typically unruly and paired with dirty denim, a clear signal that the artist relates to the working man's plight. Gill's mullet is another thing entirely: It's perfectly--too perfectly--styled. He's clean shaven and wearing a blazer, his sideburns seemingly cut with the aid of a deluxe protractor. He looks ready to board a smooth jazz cruise, not step on a honky-tonk's stage. (Gill's a bit of an age-appropriate schlub nowadays, but the silky moussed memory can't be erased.)
If Gill were an anomaly or his cheesiness were limited to his looks, we might forgive him such vanity. But frosty-tipped eye-fuckers like Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts not only exist, they've been inducted into the Opry by Gill himself. And too often Gill's caught lending his larynx to adult-contemporary atrocities like Kelly Clarkson's "Don't Rush" or the very worst Pure Prairie League (Gill briefly fronted the band early in his career) song, "Let Me Love You Tonight."
If Gill were to be confronted with this line of criticism, he might point to his bluegrass roots and the fact that he's shelved the schlock for entire tours in favor of grittier traditionalist fare, or that he's evolved into an artist who transcends genres. And he might have a point. But would the American people look the other way if President Obama admitted that he still snorted coke from time to time? Probably not.
Granted, the security of the free world isn't threatened by Gill's forays into turtleneck-sweatered pap. But it's a part of his record that cannot--and should not--be obscured when taking stock of his career. Only when Gill, like an ambitious Barry O, quits cold turkey and denounces the shit should he be fitted for a crown.