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Album Review: Vince Gill and Paul Franklin Channel Haggard and Owens on 'Bakersfield'


Step into the time machine. Because on “Bakersfield,” Vince Gill and Paul Franklin take you back to that California town in the 1960s, a time and place where country music no longer meant slickly produced Nashville records but rather the new sound of honky-tonk colliding with electric guitars.

It’s where Buck Owens and Merle Haggard were first getting noticed in small local clubs. Soon their pioneering approach turned into one hit single after another. Those songs on the radio utterly captivated Gill and Franklin as kids — and stayed with them as their careers took off, with Gill ultimately winning 20 Grammys as a top country artist, and Franklin earning 13 Academy of Country Music awards as steel guitar player of the year.

Now, Gill and Franklin make the two legends’ music their own. “There was no point in doing a note-for-note,” Gill explains, with Franklin adding, “This album says more about who we are at our core.” A concise set of ten cuts alternating between songs by Owens and songs by Haggard, “Bakersfield” ranges from number-one hits to album tracks. “This is just as much a guitar record for me as it is a singing record,” Gill says, and his Telecaster and acoustic licks are as memorable as Franklin’s vital steel playing.

Buck Owens’ “Foolin’ Around” sets the standard for the album with a strong intro by Franklin, Gill’s stellar vocals and sweet fiddle playing by Kenny Sears. Gill says that the song, along with the stomping “Nobody’s Fool But Yours,” were chosen not because they were chart-toppers for Owens but simply because they were “great, straight-up shuffles.” As for “Together Again,” Gill calls Owens smash from ’64 “One of the top five greatest records of all time,” and he and Franklin do it proud.

The pair make an equally strong impact on their selection of Merle Haggard’s classics, with Gill’s vocals especially resonating on “I Can’t Be Myself," while “Branded Man” showcases Franklin’s prowess on steel guitar. Including “The Bottle Let Me Down” might also seem like an obvious choice, but according to Gill it was as much his friend Emmylou Harris (who had covered the song herself) insisting he “never lose sight of how important this music is” that ensured it would make the cut.

Haggard himself — who wrote the collection’s liner notes — probably sums “Bakersfield” up best when he says, “Vince and Paul offer a great new touch on a great old sound.”

Get ready to be transported.