(MCA Nashville 1/2)
As a pillar of the Nashville establishment, and with his well-deserved place in the country pantheon assured, Vince Gill can pretty much do what he wants.
With "Okie," the 62-year-old singer and guitar virtuoso uses that artistic freedom to occasionally go where mainstream country rarely does. "Forever Changed," for example, tells the story of a girl victimized by an adult sexual predator (though it's based on an incident that actually happened to Gill himself). "What Choice Will You Make" lays out the wrenching dilemma facing a pregnant teen. And "Black and White" questions the country trope that things were always better in the old days.
To be sure, Gill also puts some affecting new turns on bedrock country themes, whether it's the salvation found in family and religion, the joy of love, or, at the other end of the spectrum, "The Price of Regret." He also pays tribute to two of his musical heroes, Guy Clark and Merle Haggard.
These exquisite Gill-penned compositions unfold gracefully in unhurried, mostly acoustic-based settings, which present the perfect framework for the high, airy tenor of one of country's great balladeers -- and help to give "Okie" its understated but undeniable power. -- Nick Cristiano
"Ode to Joy"