It's a small miracle that Bakersfield, the collaborative hard country album by Vince Gill and Paul Franklin, was released by a major label. Totally out of fashion and having nothing whatsoever to do with contemporary country, it's a clarion reminder of the music's most creative period. Bakersfield is a collection of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard tunes from the 1960s, cut by an all-star session band.
Vince Gill and Paul FranklinBakersfield(MCA Nashville)Rating: 4 out of 5 stars Vince Gill’s voice often comes off as so polished and commercially suited to yet another ballad or background vocals project that it’s easy to overlook his true abilities. But on Bakersfield, his new album of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard covers with pedal steel guitarist Paul Franklin, he lives up to his legendary status as one of the finest country singers in what is left of traditional Nashville. Covering 10 songs originally recorded by Owens and Haggard, and written largely by them as well, Gill and Franklin have recorded perhaps the best product to come out of Nashville this year.
For much of the '60s, the town of Bakersfield, CA was the breeding ground for a new generation of country music heroes. What artists like Merle Haggard and Buck Owens shared was a raw, electrified style and songwriting skills that became admired not only by their peers in Nashville, but by the budding "country-rock" set as well. With Bakersfield, Gill and renowned pedal steel guitarist Franklin do a stellar job paying tribute to the impact that sound had on them with ten cuts equally split between Merle and Buck standards.
For quite some time, it was the custom in country music for artists to record and release semi-regular covers projects. The purpose served was two-fold. First off, because tradition is paramount in country music, such albums worked to establish continuity between the current artist and his or her forebears. Beyond that, a covers record quite simply constituted an easy way for the artist and label to get fresh product on the market.
Vince Gill and veteran steel guitar ace Paul Franklin have produced this tribute to Bakersfield country by focusing on its two most famous practitioners: Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. They’ve chosen five songs from the catalogs of each. Most are familiar hits — “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “Foolin’ Around,” “Together Again,” “The Fightin’ Side of Me” — but Gill and Franklin have complemented those classics nicely with a few deep-catalog selections.