For those dismayed by contemporary country music’s lack of steel guitar and shuffle rhythms, “Bakersfield” is your antidote.
With Vince Gill no longer competing for top radio hits, he turns his attention to one of the bedrock styles of the traditional American music that he loves. Recruiting Paul Franklin — by far the most recorded pedal steel guitarist in Nashville in the last 25 years — Gill swaggers into the Telecaster-and-steel country sounds of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, heroes to these two musicians and millions of others who revere brawny, succinctly poetic working-class music.
Gill’s tender tenor swings into these classic lyrics in a manner that tips his hat to the distinctive styles of both masters, yet finds his own honky-tonk persona through them. While his voice rises to the occasion, Gill’s Fender guitar and Franklin’s pedal steel are just as substantial, both coming up with inventive licks that pay tribute to the originals without being carbon copies.
Balancing five songs from both the catalogs of Haggard and Owens, the selections include standards such as Hag’s “Branded Man” and “The Bottle Let Me Down” as well as Owens’ “Together Again” and “Foolin’ Around.” But the album benefits from reaching beyond the well-known hits. Gill and Franklin dig out less familiar gems such as “Holding Things Together” by Haggard and “He Don’t Deserve You Anymore” by Owens, both as good as anything on “Bakersfield” — a great country album in any era.