If there were such a thing as the mayor of country music, Vince Gill would surely be elected in a landslide. In addition to his own estimable contributions to the genre as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist over the last 30-plus years, he has been a go-to instrumentalist, harmony vocalist, producer, and awards-show host. He’s also a consistent, vocal, and eloquent cheerleader for the format, mounting sporadic benefits for the Country Music Hall of Fame and serving as a bridge to other genres.
So it’s a pleasure to report that country music’s ultimate good guy has once again crafted an excellent collection of new music with his 18th album, “Down to My Last Bad Habit.” Co-produced by Justin Niebank, the 12 tracks — all written or co-written by Gill — represent the spectrum of his interests.
He gets low-down and bluesy on the seductive “Make You Feel Real Good.” He hits a two-lane highway with no particular place to go on the sunny ambler “Me and My Girl.” He invites trumpeter Chris Botti over to add jazzy, piquant melancholy to “One More Mistake I Made.”
Other friends joining in on the fun include buzzed-about newcomer Cam, who adds warm harmony vocals to the wistful ballad “I’ll Be Waiting for You,” and Little Big Town, who help to create a Fleetwood Mac-esque foundation for the churning “Take Me Down.”
If we had to guess, in addition to the Mac, Gill sounds like he’s been listening to the Eagles, as the title track shares a similar late-night haze with that band’s “I Can’t Tell You Why.” And the Southern soul grooves-meets-bar band heat of “Reasons for the Tears I Cry” also evokes the SoCal favorites.
The album’s peak comes with the gut-wrenching piano ballad “I Can’t Do This.” As a man watches an old lover work out new choreography with a new flame, Gill hits the high notes of a low mood with a piercing lament.
He brings the affair to a close with the pure, vintage country — all weeping pedal steel and last-call waltz-time finality — of “Sad One Comin’ On (A Song for George Jones).” The ode to the late, lamented Possum will surely put a tear in many a beer, and perfectly caps what could easily be a contender for one of the best country albums of this young year.
ESSENTIAL “I Can’t Do This”Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.