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Vince Gill and Paul Franklin, ‘Bakersfield’ – Album Review

Bakersfield
Bakersfield

It’s almost unfair to call ‘Bakersfield’ a Vince Gill and Paul Franklin album, because there are so many other skilled musicians who add an important solo, fill or backbeat to the 10-song project. Often when so much talent fills a room, egos bump like elephants at feeding time. But there’s space for everyone on this project.

Buck Owens’ 1961 hit ‘Foolin’ Around’ opens a collection of alternating Owens and Merle Haggard covers. Gill and Franklin work like a polished vocal duo, only the pedal steel is Franklin’s voice. He compliments Gill like Brooks did for Dunn, or Carter did for Cash. Like they do on many of the songs, the two stay true to the original version here, adding only a touch of contemporary style to the traditional sound.

Initially, it’s difficult to take Gill seriously on the more rugged songs from Haggard. He’s anything but a ‘Branded Man,’ but by the time one gets to ‘The Bottle Let Me Down’ and later ‘The Fightin’ Side of Me,’ he makes up the difference. Moreso than on the Owens hits, one has to separate what they know of these songs to appreciate the new perspective Gill brings.

Haggard’s ‘I Can’t Be Myself’ is the star’s finest vocal moment. He relies on his high register for much of the song and has no trouble reaching up to hit the “pleases.” Not lost is his guitar playing, which finally gets a showcase during ‘Holding Things Together.’ He solos in other spots as well, but this is the longest and most memorable.

Franklin shines throughout the album, especially on ‘Together Again,’ during a solo that was considered amongst the best steel solos of all time after it was released in 1964. One really gets to hear the fine details of the instrument. The warbles, the whines and the cries produced from his picking come out cleaner than freshly-laundered whites.

As a whole, the album’s production is notable for being crystal clear. Each instrument stands out without stepping out. Fans of ‘Bakersfield’ will praise the two men’s playing, but they should also shower the production with accolades. You’ll struggle to find two more professional, humble musicians in Nashville, and those qualities — along with a top notch band and great songs — make for a very satisfying listen.

4 Stars

Next: The Best Country Albums of 2013 (So Far)

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