Tag Archives: MCA Nashville

Vince Gill & Paul Franklin: Bakersfield

VinceGill_BakersfieldSterling tribute to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard

Tribute albums are a tricky proposition. Play it too close and you add nothing of your own; take too many liberties and you lose touch with the object of your affection. Finding a middle ground that honors the original performances, adds something new and echoes both the celebrated and celebrant is one of the most delicate balancing acts in music. To best accomplish this, you need to have absorbed an artist’s music into your roots, so that your own path of discovery carries the DNA of these influences even as you develop your unique variations. Recorded country music has a long history of meaningful tips of a ten gallon hat, and such is the case for this heartfelt tribute to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard from singer-guitarist Vince Gill and steel guitarist Paul Franklin.

Both Gill and Franklin took to the Bakersfield sound and the songs of Owens and Haggard at very young ages, spurred to dig deeper into music by the revolutionary sounds coming out of Bakersfield in the 1960s. Between Gill and Franklin, they’re able to cover three of the key elements of Owens’ and Haggard’s records: vocals, guitar and steel. Gill’s always had one of the sweetest voices in contemporary country music, but it’s still surprising how easily and equally it lends itself to both singers’ music. He sings his own harmony on the Owens’ tunes, just as Owens had done on his own studio recordings, and adds telecaster sting, including the chicken pickin’ and stuttering leads that bring to mind James Burton and Roy Nichols.

Franklin’s steel provides Gill the perfect partner, adding the twangy instrumental voice that gave Owens’ and Haggard’s music its unapologetic country sound. He pays tribute to Tom Brumley and Ralph Mooney, as does pretty much every player who touches a steel guitar, but with his own twists to signature solos such as Brumley’s masterpiece on “Together Again.” The song list combines several of Owens’ and Haggard’s most familiar hits – “Foolin’ ‘Round,” “Branded Man,” “Together Again,” “The Bottle Let Me Down” and “The Fightin’ Side of Me” – with well selected catalog gems. The latter are highlighted by Owens’ 1966 two-stepping album side “He Don’t Deserve You Anymore” and Haggard’s pained 1974 “Holding Things Together.”

Gill has recorded many great records, both as a chart-topping hit maker in the ’90s and as an album auteur in the last decade. Franklin’s been one of Nashville’s most prolific session players, spreading his commercial and artistic successes across hundreds of records. But playing the material that fueled their imaginations as youngsters clearly lights a spark in each of them. Their balance between fidelity and liberty is just right, with the heart of each song filigreed with changes that are often small, but meaningful. Gill and Franklin each bring their own style to the record, but they are styles which grew partly in Bakersfield soil. The album’s only disappointment is the short ten track song list; a number that’s particularly small when drawing from the lengthy catalogs of two country music giants. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Vince Gill’s Home Page
Paul Franklin’s Home Page

George Strait: Here For a Good Time

The iron man of country music

George Strait’s numbers are eye-popping: 30 years, 24 chart-topping albums, 57 chart-topping singles, 69 million records sold. 84 of his 89 radio singles have cracked the Top 10 – second only to Eddy Arnold (who notched 92!). It’s a streak worthy of Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripkin Jr. One could wonder whether his fame has simply become self-sustaining, but the music industry is littered with acts who maintained their success for a few years or a decade, but few have sustained Strait’s level of commercial success for thirty years. During those three decades, the artistic reach of Strait’s albums has waxed and waned, but he’s never seemed less than sincere or involved by the songs, and he’s never strayed far from his country roots.

The past few years have seen some high points, including the neon honky-tonk glow of 2003’s Honkytonkville and his return to songwriting on last year’s Twang. This year’s model is notable more for its consistency, including his continued songwriting with his son, than for anything particularly new. Strait sings with his usual ease as he extols the healing power of love and is equally convincing as he voices an alcoholic’s weakness. He lays some deep experience into Jesse Winchester’s oft-covered “A Showman’s Life,” and delights in covering Delbert McLinton’s “Lonestar Blues.” The standard Nashville mix of good times and romantic discord fills out a solidly traditional, if not particularly revelatory album. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

George Strait’s Home Page

Gary Allan: Get Off on the Pain

Superb country originals and passable Nashville stock

Allan hit his stride with 1999’s Smoke Rings in the Dark, and recorded a series of albums that retained his California twang even as Nashville dug in its fingers. His eighth album still offers some edgy and forceful vocals, but starts out with several tunes whose arrangements of piano, organ, strings and studio drums resound with Nashville’s overbearing contemporary country-rock sound. Allan’s relegated his superior original material to the album’s second-half, opening the album with songs from Music City pros whose work leaves a more calculated impression. The productions on the first few cuts overwhelms Allan’s earthiness, and even the sprightly “That Ain’t Gonna Fly” sounds more like a studio band attempting to rock than a country band actually rocking.

But the mainstream sound fades away when the album reaches Allan’s original material at track six. The intimate details of “We Fly by Night,” co-written with Jamie O’Hara and Odie Blackmon, are given a stately tempo that allows Allan to consider the lyrics and add an echo of Roy Orbison’s drama. Or maybe it’s an echo of Raul Malo, as Dan Dugmore’s steel and gentle notes of vibraphone give this track a compelling sophistication. Allan writes poetically of opening up to opportunities, begging for forgiveness and finding oneself, and the emotion with which he sings his own words is a world away from what he’s able to muster for the album’s stock Nashville compositions. Perhaps his label didn’t trust that Allan’s originals were radio-ready, but his songs are deeper and feel as if they’re born of personal experience rather than someone else’s songwriting appointment.

Thos who liked See If I Care might skip lightly through the first five tracks, as the album’s second half is a twangy and soulful gem worth the wait. The deluxe CD edition adds four bonus cuts: the newly recorded “Long Summer Days,” and live versions of “Right Where I Need to Be,” “Best I Ever Had,” and “Watching Airplanes” that were recorded in front of an enthusiastic audience. The disc (which also unlocks on-line video content) is delivered in a digipack with a 16-panel booklet that includes lyrics to the album’s core ten tracks. Allan is effective in playing both the country mainstream and its rootsier edges, which may leave some fans enjoying one half of this disc more than the other. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Gary Allan’s Home Page
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