Album Review: Vince Gill & Paul Franklin — Bakersfield
Recording a tribute album presents several challenges to musicians. Do you slavishly re-interpret every track note-for-note so that the song sounds just like the original? If not, of course, some listeners will complain that these new versions of the music simply don’t live up to the original versions. Or, do you embrace the spirit of the songs, play them as your own musical passion and spirits guide you, and create new and memorable versions of the classics you so respect?
Gill and Franklin, two of Nashville’s finest musicians, take a break from their Monday gigs with the Time Jumpers at Nashville’s 3rd & Lindsley, and share their love of the Bakersfield Sound with transcendent interpretations of ten songs by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Listeners can feel the ways that Gill and Franklin become one with the songs, weaving in and out of each other’s notes and trading licks that jump out so boldly that you can’t help but drop the needle over and over again on intros and turn-arounds in the songs.
Franklin’s lickety-split steel intro brings the opening track, “Foolin’ Around,” to life as the Owens shuffle launches into the stratosphere with Gill’s tasty lead fills bobbing under and winding around Franklin’s soulful steel. Haggard’s “Branded Man” features Gill and Franklin doubling up on one of Franklin’s licks; once again, it’s Franklin’s one-of-a-kind, bending and sparkling intro that lifts the song to a new plane.
Gill channels Marty Robbins in the gorgeous version of Haggard’s “I Can’t Be Myself”; his acoustic fills and his lead break remind listeners just how versatile and great a guitarist he is, and his voice captures the moaning pain of the ballad. The haunting shuffle “Holding Things Together” (Haggard) fades out with an extended steel and guitar break that is worth the price of the record. Gill and Franklin work their magic on the Tommy Collins-penned “But I Do,” which appeared on the 1963 Buck Owens Sings Tommy Collins, and their pals from the Time Jumpers, Larry Franklin and Joe Spivey, add soaring twin fiddles to the duo’s version of the classic Bakersfield tune.
Gill and Franklin are backed by a killer band, too, including John Hobbs on piano, Greg Morrow on drums, Willie Weeks and Brad Albin on bass, J.T. Corenflos on electric rhythm guitar, Kenny Sears, Franklin, and Spivey on fiddles, and Dawn Sears providing harmony on four of the Haggard tunes. As beautiful and touching as Gill’s vocals are, this is above all a guitar album that hearkens back also to the days that the great steel player John Hughey was playing with Vince Gill.
Gill’s and Franklin’s deep love and respect for this music emanates palpably from this album, and there’s not a misstep to be found. The duo have made an album that’s destined to become a classic in its own right, but more important, their passionate rendering of these songs introduces a new generation of listeners to Owens and Haggard and drives listeners back to those classic songs to hear for themselves why this music lives and continues to touch hearts and souls.
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