For Down to My Last Bad Habit, his eighteenth studio album, it would have been easy for Vince Gill to kick back a bit. After all, when you've sold more than 26 million albums, won 20 Grammys, and earned 18 CMA Awards (including two Entertainer of the Year trophies), you've done it all, right? Not a chance, says this musician extraordinaire, who produced his new album with engineer Justin Niebank.
Down to My Last Bad Habit is his first solo album as part of a new deal with MCA, the label he joined in 1989. On his first solo endeavor since 2011's Guitar Slinger, Gill returns to his favorite theme, love in all its incarnations: Love sweet and celebrated ("Me and My Girl," "My Favorite Movie"), love on fire ("Take Me Down," "Make You Feel Real Good"), love denied ("I'll Be Waiting for You," "Down to My Last Bad Habit"), and love lost and mourned ("I Can't Do This," "Reasons for the Tears I Cry").
The Oklahoma native wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the album. "I love the diversity of the songs. Some of them are brand new, and some of them have a lot of years on them," he notes. Gill took two years to make the record, during which he co-produced the second of two albums (Like a Rose, The Blade) with the old-soul vocalist Ashley Monroe. And with steel guitar wizard Paul Franklin, he recorded Bakersfield, an album composed of the hard-country songs of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.
The new album likewise acknowledges country's deep roots with the steel-guitar laced "Sad One Coming On (A Song for George Jones)." Gill, who approximates Jones' clench-jawed vocal, sang at Jones' funeral in 2013, but he was so broken up that he could hardly get through it. He wrote the new song as a way to assuage his own pain, and to give the King of Broken Hearts his due as perhaps the greatest country singer ever.
The songs on Down to My Last Bad Habit run the gamut of styles, including the jazzy "One More Mistake I Made," the down-and-dirty Chicago blues of "Make You Feel Real Good," and the blistering "I Can't Do This," which hearkens to the pop power ballads of the ‘70s. One of the album's highlights, "I Can't Do This" captures the excruciating pain of a man who runs into his old flame with her new beau, and remembers the nights "I've seen that red dress hanging on our bedroom door."
As a producer, Gill wants every note to matter, and to feel equal to the others. He picks his musicians and guest vocalists much the way a film director makes a movie. "I'm always casting," he explains. "I ask myself, ‘Who's right for this part? Who will play it the best?' That to me is the most fun part of making a record." While he chose such luminaries as Sheryl Crow, Alison Krauss, Bekka Bramlett, jazz trumpeter Chris Botti, Little Big Town and guitarist Sonny Landreth for this record, he also found new friends in Ellie Holcomb, Charlie Worsham and Cam, in addition to his favorite vocalists close by: daughters Jenny and Corrina.