It may be something of an exaggeration to describe Vince Gill as "a right jolly old elf," but there's no denying that he's a happy fellow.
He's supposed to be talking about his Christmas tour (which plays the MCI Center on Sunday) and brand-new holiday album, "Breath of Heaven," but somehow, he can't stop laughing. It isn't that he's being silly or has been sniffing laughing gas; he just happens to be in an incredibly good mood.
But who can blame him? He's about to spend the month of December doing Christmas shows. So even though he has been holed up in a recording studio for weeks - "It's my new home this month," he laughs - Gill can't help but be cheered by the prospect of all that Christmas music.
"Those songs, it doesn't matter when you hear 'em, man," he says of the carols. "They sound pretty."
Although Gill owes much of his fondness for Christmas music to his faith, he didn't become a Christmas concert convert until 1993, when he made his first Christmas album, "Let There Be Peace on Earth."
"The real reason I made the first Christmas record, in '93, was I did a Christmas in Washington special with Johnny Mathis and Anne Murray and Anita Baker," he says. "It was the first time I'd ever gotten to sing in front of an orchestra. ... Plus, I got to stand next to Johnny Mathis!" Gill does a quick Mathis impression and laughs.
The experience was enough to leave him hooked on Christmas concerts. "It was like, 'Yeah, it's Christmastime. OK, let's go find a symphony, sing pretty and dress up,' " he says.
Back then, however, Gill didn't have enough Christmas material in his repertoire to fill an entire evening. So he split that tour between his country hits and his Christmas songs. "We just kind of did a pared-down acoustic set of 45 minutes of some of the things they would have heard," he says of the non-seasonal stuff. "Then we had an intermission and came back and did the whole Christmas thing.
"That's one of the reasons we did another Christmas record, because we knew that we were going to do this tour, and I said, 'Well, what we ought to do is just a whole night of Christmas music.' "
Gill's take on Christmas music is very traditional, by the way. There's nary a pedal-steel to be found on "Breath of Heaven," and instead of fiddles, he's backed by the strings of a full orchestra. On the whole, the album's sound owes far more to Bing Crosby than to the Carter Family.
But Christmas magic transcends such things as musical style. Maybe that was why, when Gill first took his Christmas show on the road, the audience response surprised him.
"I think people respond different to Christmas music," he says. "The applause kind of felt richer. It felt warmer, it felt longer. It just felt different.
"But it was fun," he adds, and laughs again.
When: Sunday, 7 p.m.
Where: MCI Center, 601 F St. N.W., Washington
Tickets: $39.75, $29.75, $19.75
L Call: 202-628-3200 for information, 410-481-7328 for tickets
Sundial: To hear excerpts from Vince Gill's new release, "Breath of Heaven," call Sundial at 410-783-1800 and enter the code 6103. For other local Sundial numbers, see the directory on Page 2B.
Pub Date: 12/10/98