For over four decades, singer, songwriter, and guitarist Vince Gill has attained virtually every success a recording artist can, from selling millions of records and winning awards to being able to record exactly what he wants and who he wants to work with. His ambition is balanced by a painstaking work ethic, unshakable spiritual faith, and the willingness to support other musicians. At 62, he couldn't have released Okie until now. Its title reflects the once-derogatory term identifying Oklahomans who escaped the Dust Bowl during the 1930s. Gill, like Woody Guthrie and Bob Childers before him, reclaims the term as a badge of pride.
Okie is a laid-back collection of original songs that are more poignant and more nakedly autobiographical and topical than anything he's previously issued. Co-produced with Justin Niebank, these tunes are framed by acoustic and electric guitars, piano, bass, and drums, all suitable for Gill's resonant singing voice, his poetic lyrics, and tender melodies. Opener "I Don't Want to Ride the Rails No More" sketches the life of a wanderer seeking shelter from the cruelties of itinerant traveling. Gill's circumstances have been more comfortable, but the thousands of miles logged on tour buses create dislocation, loneliness, and homesickness. The interplay between Gill's, Tom Bukovac's and Jedd Hughes' guitars is exquisite, and provides a blueprint for each proceeding tune. "The Price of Regret," a topical country gospel tune, is a paean to common experience and acceptance: No matter who we are or what we believe, we are all broken, in need of love, forgiveness, and acceptance, and in need of a place to belong. It's also a prayer whispered in a mirror, to always recognize those needs in the face of another. Gill keeps the gospel theme at the fore of "Forever Changed," a searing indictment of those who abuse women and children. Steel guitarist Paul Franklin appears on the stately country of "An Honest Man," an autobiographical confession of Gill's flawed male ordinariness and his need to be loved despite it. Later, "The Red Words" offers arresting proof that he is loved. "What Choice Will You Make," co-written with singer/songwriter Leslie Satcher, examines the life-altering choice a young woman who accidentally becomes pregnant faces -- without answers or judgment. A banjo underscores "Black and White," whose lyric seeks a middle ground between the all-too-human positions, experiences, and beliefs that divide us. "When My Amy Prays," written for his wife, is a love song framed by piano-laden country gospel, and immediately following is "A Letter to My Mama," an overdue apology and expression of gratitude to his mother. Between the Americana tribute "Nothing' Like a Guy Clark Song" and the pedal steel weeper "A World Without Haggard" (the original "California Okie") is a bluesy, slide-guitar wrangler in "That Old Man of Mine," a snarling murder ballad with funky organ.
The introspective approach on Okie was necessary; from even just a cursory listening, it's obvious Gill wrote these songs in order to explore what he's learned from the ever-deepening meaning of his experiences as a man. In other words, he had to; and we're fortunate he did.