Vince Gill's 43-song 4-CD set ''These Days'' earned the country vet a spot next to pop stars Kanye West and Amy Winehouse in the Album of the Year Grammy race

Credit: Andrew Marks / Retna

The eclectic group of Album of the Year Grammy nominees this year includes a hip-hop artist (Kanye West), a British soul singer (Amy Winehouse), a jazz legend (Herbie Hancock) a straight-up rock band (Foo Fighters), and perhaps most surprising of all, a 24-year country veteran, Vince Gill. Not that it’s surprising to see Gill up for a Grammy — he took home the trophy for best male country vocal just last year. What’s remarkable is that he edged out strong releases from Grammy mainstays Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney with an ambitious, 4-CD set, These Days, which contains 43 original compositions and guest performances from a huge slate of artists, including Sheryl Crow, Michael McDonald, and Amy Grant. grabbed Gill at Thursday’s nominee announcement (where he was a presenter) and asked him what he thinks about country music in 2007 and what it feels like to be lumped with pop stars like Winehouse, West, and the Foo Fighters in this year’s album of the year pool.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Album of the year, were you expecting that?
VINCE GILL: No, of course not. I’ve been in this business for over 30 years, and I’ve been in the country music world for 24 years, and all those years, no, I’ve never been nominated in any other category other than the country music categories. This really shocked me.

How was it to get the nomination while on the stage?
It’s great. It was fun because the Foo Fighters were standing right next to me. They announced their name and then my name. They turned away from me and then said, ”We’ll be taking this outside!”

Do you have any opinions of the other nominees? It’s a very eclectic group.
I’m so grateful to be in that category with the diversity that there is. You got as different a palette as you could ever hope to have.

What is the state of country music in this day and age?
The people that are on top are going to tell you it’s better than ever, and the people who are struggling are going to say it’s worse than it’s ever been. It just depends what side of the fence you sit on. Great artistry is great artistry no matter when it comes. That’s all you can hope for, that great acts come along, great songs come along, and great records come along. I have a tendency to judge the present with the past, and that’s not fair. The past has all those years of being inside you and knowledge of all those great records that have been made. So, time will bear out what was great in this era and what wasn’t.

Are there any young country artists you’re fond of?
Well, [best new artist nominee] Taylor Swift, that’s a really unique thing. Here’s a young girl who’s almost 18 years old, and she’s found an audience of young kids that is completely in awe of her and love her. She’s on the Internet with them all the time, and MySpace, and all those things; she got really connected in a big way. In a sense, it reminds me of when my band played a lot of colleges, and I was the same age as all those college kids. I see her getting to enjoy all this fun but with kids her own age. My audience now is much older. I’m not really appealing to 15-year-old girls, and that’s okay [laughs].