Vince Gill and Paul Franklin pay tribute to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard and make one of the best country albums of the year.
Make no mistake, Bakersfield, released on July 30, is classic, honky-tonk country music. Fans of the Top 40 stuff that falls under the label of country may want to proceed with caution, but for classic country fans this album is a must.
Gill, who is more known for his crooning ballads, puts his own spin on Haggard’s and Owens’ vocal repertoire, and throws in some impressive guitar licks reminiscent of James Burton and Haggard. Franklin’s slide work, which seems heavily influenced by Norm Hamlet and Ralph Mooney, fits perfectly with Gill’s singing and gives the album an authentic Bakersfield sound. The rest of the instrumentation is simple and stripped-down; a basic drums and bass rhythm section provides a solid base for Gill and Franklin, two of country music’s greats, to shine.
For those who don’t know, Owens and Haggard made the Bakersfield sound popular in the late 50s and early 60s, when the Nashville scene was more focused slick, string-laden, radio-friendly productions. The fellows on the West Coast borrowed from rock ‘n’ roll, put the steel guitar out front, and sang songs that were perfectly suited for juke joints and dive bars. The Bakersfield sound would go on to influence many country artists, including Gill, and is considered by many the greatest era of of the genre.
This 10-song album, an homage to the iconic Bakersfield music, includes classics like Owens’ “Foolin’ Around’ and “Nobody’s Fool but Yours,” and Haggard’s “Branded Man” and “Fightin’ Side of Me.” Gill and Franklin also picked a couple of deep cuts, like Haggard’s “Holding Things Together.”
Gill and Franklin didn’t aim to do straight covers of these classics. Those familiar with the original material will recognize the differences, most notably the addition of solos to the traditionally short songs. But the guys do an excellent job of preserving the heart of these classics while making the songs their own.