by Chuck Dauphin
First of all, let me say that words – mine, or any other record reviewer or writer – can’t begin to do this one justice. I believe this might be one of the best albums I have ever heard. Now, of course, this is what is known in the industry as a “Passion Project.” (Truthfully, I don’t think that term exists, but go with me.) The fan who this album was made for is going to absolutely love it – just like me.
The premise of the disc is you take arguably Country’s greatest living singer (Gill), team him up with the top steel player in the business (Franklin), and have the two pay a loving tribute to the classic Bakersfield sound made famous by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Five Owens songs get the cover treatment, as do five from the Hag, and on each it’s as much a tribute to the musicians – such as Don Rich and Roy Nichols – as it is to the lead artists themselves, with many of those classic sounds being put front and center!
Of the Owens material, the two cover some classics, such as “Foolin’ Round,” as well as some lesser known gems like “He Don’t Deserve You Anymore.” The latter is particularly effective, but Gill and Franklin really raise the bar with their simply outstanding take on “Together Again.” Gill is in a world of his own here, but Franklin also rises to the occasion, tipping the hat to the late Tom Brumley, whose licks on the 1964 original remain one of the greatest steel performances in Country Music history.
On the five Haggard cuts, the choices are a little more obvious – but still just as heartfelt. “Holdin’ Things Together” features Gill up to his ears in pain and misery, while his take on “Branded Man” shows the same kind of weathered feel that Haggard brought to the original. Then, there’s “I Can’t Be Myself.” Until Gill produced a cut on LeAnn Rimes doing the song, it was a Haggard song I had never heard before. Gill gives a performance for the ages on the tune, hitting a note on the chorus that will simply leave you speechless. But, then again, this whole album will do just that. This is great music, and also living history. Fans who loved these songs in their original setting will love it, and if you’ve never heard of a Buck or Merle, consider this your history book. You’ll thank me later!
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