Review: Vince Gill straddles middle of the road on ‘Okie’

Vince Gill, “Okie” (MCA Nashville)

Musically and politically, Vince Gill straddles the middle of the road on his new album “Okie.”

“We’re too far left and too far right,” Gill opines on the song “Black and White.”

The singing centrist from Oklahoma creates a coffee house vibe on his 12-song set, with tempos that are never swift and playing that’s always polite. Gill keeps his Eagles-caliber guitar chops under wraps, and fellow virtuosos Tom Bukovac and Jedd Hughes lend only subtle support. There’s little twang until Paul Franklin’s wonderfully weepy pedal steel on the album closer “A World Without Haggard.”

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Gill’s approach puts the focus on the songs, and maybe that’s wise. While those allergic to sentimentality might want to steer clear, there’s an appealing honesty in the often autobiographical lyrics, and Gill’s melodies and vocals are lovely.

Back-to-back contemporary Christian tunes serve as love songs to his wife, singer Amy Grant, and are the album’s highlights because they’re so beautifully sung. When Gill climbs to a high A on the piano ballad “When My Amy Prays,” the transcendent moment might give even a doubting Thomas goosebumps.

Gill also references the #MeToo movement (“Forever Changed”), the racial divide (“The Price of Regret”), teen pregnancy (“What Choice Would You Make”) and three of his heroes (Merle Haggard, Guy Clark and Mom). There’s also a song about a dad — and patricide. Autobiographical it is not.