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Vince Gill and Paul Franklin

Bakersfield – 2013 (MCA)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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CDs by Vince Gill and Paul Franklin

If ever an artist matched the material he was covering, then Vince Gill along with Paul Franklin's "Bakersfield" hits the nail on the head. Gill, who has earned his spurs for being a great country singer, performer and guitarist, tackles 10 songs that put the California city on the map thanks to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.

Fortunately, Gill does not mimic either Owens or Haggard on these songs originally recorded between 1961 and 1974. That would have been hard to do vocally, but Gill relies on his strong tenor to tackle such material as the lead off Foolin' Around from Owens, which he wrote with the late great Harlan Howard, and The Bottle Let Me Down and The Fightin' Side of Me, both by Haggard. Gill's voice, which hews closer to Owens' than the Hag's, probably could not have rivaled Haggard for tackling such gritty material with a rougher sounding voice.

Franklin is one ace pedal steel player in his own right, and he never disappoints with his sad sounding instrument carrying such tunes as Owen's Together Again. Gill's phrasing - a slight catch here, elongating syllables there - is as good as Franklin's playing.

Gill, as usual, has superb backing players as well: John Hobbs, piano; Greg Morrow, drums; Willie Weeks and Brad Albin, bass; J. T. Corenflos, electric rhythm guitar; and Time Jumpers Kenny Sears, Larry Franklin, Joe Spivey, fiddles and Dawn Sears on harmony vocals. Gill played all the acoustic and electric guitar fills and solos.

Gill is at the point in his career - he's 56 - where he can do what he wants to do. Good thing because country doesn't get a whole lot better than this on this throwback album of a style of country music that is just not part of the musical palette of most mainstream artists any more.