Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
Vince Gill may be a veteran country artist, but if you believe the title of his forthcoming MCA Nashville album, he's the "Next Big Thing." He'll be hitting the road to support the album, which is due Feb. 11 from the label. But rather than approaching the set like a big star and playing at the larger venues that housed his last few outings, Gill has opted to perform at a series of small clubs on his Back 2 Basics tour.
The 16-city intimate-venue trek will bring Gill close to his hardcore fans. The largest room on the route is the 2,500-capacity Massey Hall in Toronto; the smallest is the 650-seat Pantages Theater in Minneapolis. Despite the small size of the venues, Gill is not skimping during the six-week run, and plans to have an eight-piece band to back him.
Gill says his vision for the club dates is to do "a live listening party for this record. I thought it would be a fun idea.
"I've been touring and playing and doing every conceivable kind of gig I think a human being can do in a career for close to 30 years now," Gill says. "I kind of felt like, 'Let's try something... different.' I said, 'Let's go find the coolest clubs in all these cities.' " Gill says such clubs are the places where he feels "the most musical."
In the summer, Gill says he plans to hit the road again for some acoustic shows "with just me and my guitar." Venues for that part of the tour will include West Coast wineries and some small, outdoor pavilions. For those shows, Gill says, he won't have a set list and will just play songs that fans request.
After years of working with producer Tony Brown, Gill decided to produce this album on his own, with the help of engineer Justin Niebank, something he says he did with Brown's support and encouragement. After Brown left MCA to launch Universal South Records, Gill felt like it was a good time to try something new.
When he played the finished project for Brown, Gill says, "it was kind of bittersweet, and we both were getting choked up... After it was done, he said, 'This is one of the best-sounding records you've ever made. These are great songs. You can be proud of it, you did a great job.' Just having that validation meant the world."
Gill, who previously produced an album for Lyric Street artist Sonya Isaacs, thinks he may have more such work in his future, noting, "Probably it will be a natural evolution for me to wind up producing."
His vocal guests on this new album include Emmylou Harris, Lee Ann Womack, Leslie Satcher, Michael McDonald, wife Amy Grant, and daughter Jenny Gill. His studio band included such luminaries as Al Anderson and Mac McAnally. In addition to producing, Gill wrote or co-wrote every track on the album, including the beautiful ballad "Someday" with Richard Marx.
The album's first single, "Next Big Thing," is a tongue-in-cheek look at the artist turnover in the country-music business. But Gill tackles the same subject again in the more serious ballad "Young Man's Town." That song reflects Gill's own practical take on the music business. He sings, "Why bitch and moan and say they've done you wrong/Just teach 'em what you know, and pass it on down."
"I think people's first impression when they hear ["Young Man's Town"] is 'Well, this guy is bitter,' and it couldn't be further from the truth," says Gill, who has nothing to be bitter about. "The real crux to that song is [that] it's kind of like [parenthood]. You know your kids are going to screw things up, [but] you have to let them."
Additional reporting provided by Ray Waddell in Nashville.
Excerpted from the Feb. 8, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
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