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Gill shines in all his country virtuosity

Vince Gill is an anomaly in contemporary country music. He defies convenient categorization, revels in instrumental virtuosity and has refused, for more than 20 years now, to toe the "pop country" line.

That makes him a bit of a maverick, though based on his easygoing, self-effacing demeanor throughout a lengthy, inspired and well-received set inside the Avalon Ballroom on Friday evening, mavericks don't come much nicer.

Gill has few peers among today's country stars. He is a versatile, emotive singer with a gorgeous tone, but he also is an incredible guitarist with impressive chops, who is able to play rock 'n' roll, bluegrass, jazz and a fiery blend of all of them, at will.

Backed by a band that included the four-piece Sapphire Horns, pedal-steel player Russ Pahl, keyboardist Pete Wasner and vocalist Bekka Bramlett, among others, Gill reveled in all of these styles during his performance, much of which concentrated on his ambitious new four-disc set, "These Days."

"One More Last Chance" started things off with real honky-tonk fire, and Gill wasted no time blowing a mean guitar solo over the rapid-fire chord changes. The swanky country blues of "Don't Let Our Love Start Slipping Away" followed, and Gill had switched guitars for one of what would be a dozen or so times.

The full house in the Avalon was well into Gill, and seemed to most appreciate the ballads -- a style Gill performs masterfully.

One of Gill's first country hits, the eloquent weeper, "When I Call Your Name," was the first of many ballads, and was delivered eloquently and bolstered by heavenly vocal harmonies.

"Oklahoma Borderline" came burning out of the Avalon's clean and powerful PA next, and again, Gill took an inspired solo, this time delving into the banjo-like "chicken-pickin' " style.

Between songs, Gill proved himself to be a warm and engaging host, a bit of a smarty pants who seemed to thrive on easygoing interaction with the crowd, and a pretty convincing mimic as well.

Gill played songs known and revered by his audience, but he's on tour right now for a reason, and that reason -- "These Days" -- has some 47 songs on it.

This provided the evening with several highlights, including "The Faint of Heart," a pure jazz tune with sophisticated chord changes, a moving Gill vocal, and yet another sweet guitar solo.

Gill is classy, consistently engaging onstage, and surely one of the finest guitarists, not just in country music, but in all of popular music. His show on Friday was a treat from start to finish.



Vince Gill Friday night in Avalon Ballroom, Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort, Niagara Falls, Ont. Another performance at 9 tonight.

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