Vince And His Covers

I know this will come as a huge shock to music fans the world over but the Grammy Awards get it wrong more than they get it right. No offense to the 2013 winners, but after repeated listens to the LP of Bakersfield, which was cut from a digital master, and the CD of the same record, (no high resolution download yet) it’s very clear that the best country record of 2013 was easily this delightful throwback that reminds you again, that once upon a time Nashville wasn’t the only game in the country universe. A lot of what is now thought of as “classic country” was written in California by the likes of Tommy Collins, Wynn Stewart and the two artists whose music is celebrated here, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.

In his brief liner note, Merle Haggard, says he feels “highly complimented” and says he likes “the whole album or to be technically correct these days the whole “CD.” Sorry Hag, even though the country music audience continues to be the CD’s most loyal followers, the pendulum has swung back yet again to the LP and now, the download. To fans of Buck, Hag and all the great music that came from the central valley of California in the period from 1950s to 1970, this is a greatest hits compilation. No undiscovered gems or unrecorded originals here. This one’s played just for the hits, or a selection of the many Bakersfield hits, all of these released between 1961 and 1974. What’s most impressive here after the obvious care and respect for the forbearers that went into this project is Vince Gill’s voice. One of the finest vocalists in the history of popular music, Gill, through his singing, both pays tribute to the originals here but also makes these oft– heard hits his own. The fact that he can put over Buck’s great ballad, “Together Again,” and it’s stylistic opposite, Hag’s “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” with equal verve is an amazing feat. Of course he’s also a hot guitar picker. And then great talent draws great talent and so for this project he’s surrounded himself and by all accounts a class act all around, here surrounds himself with a band of A list Nashville pickers headed by his cohort Franklin, fiddler Kenny Sears and oh yeah, the great bassist Willie Weeks!

If there’s anything to question here—and this is a very mild criticism at best—it lies with the tempos. While it’s commonly held that classic country music is all about the “stories,” it’s the tempos that are actually the key to making the music of both Haggard and Owens work. The opener, Owens’ “Foolin’ Around” is played at exactly the right snappy tempo whereas the next track “Branded Man” seems a step slow. But again this is nitpicking. Listen to “The Bottle Let Me Down,” tells you most of the tempos here are right on.

Released to coincide with an exhibit on California country music that opened in Fall 2013 at the Country Music Hall of Fame, this cover of this record has been designed to look stained along the edges, just the way a country LP of its vintage often looks. Nice touch! Rather than launch into a tirade over the merits of the pop rock that passes for country music today, let’s just say that because Bakersfield was a project born of a passion for what’s great about country music, and recorded in a home studio where time is an affordable luxury—and everyone sounds like they had a good time making it—this is one of the best country records to come out of Nashville in a very long time.

sgibson389's picture

Good review, this has been on my want list ever since it came out, being a fan of Buck and Merle. it's nice that their music has not been forgotten. Of interest is a Cracker Barrel extended cd version, does anyone know if the extras are worth it? 


deckeda's picture

and you can hear those 4 extra tracks and decide for yourself.

Bkhuna's picture

Mainstream country today is dead.  All hat, no cattle.


The Bakersfield sound remains true and Merle continues to be the best and last of the breed.

jimtavegia's picture

Bought it off Amazon for a good price.  

jimtavegia's picture

Great sounding new LP for under $15.00 including shipping.  Can't beat that.   Off Amazon.  

deckeda's picture

a great deal

dalethorn's picture

I saw Merle live twice at Jamboree USA in Wheeling WVa, in the late 1970's. He was a master musician, and performed with the level of quality heard on his records of that time. My first awareness of Merle was walking into my favorite record shop shortly before that and observing the owner playing a copy of Okie From Muskogee for what looked like a couple of flower children, who were aghast at the lyrics. It was later when I heard Okie on a good system that I was impressed by the excellent guitar line and the recorded quality.

As a side note, when the war went bad and country artists started growing longer hair, and (gasp) Nixon had to resign, the lyrics in Merle's own live performances were softened a bit. Ironically, after 9/11 and some of the bellicose country music that followed it, I was thinking that maybe it was the 2000's equivalent of Fightin' Side of Me - a new beginning for red-blooded patriotism.

Regadude's picture

Yup, I saw him 3 times. Great shows. 

dalethorn's picture

I listened to the 90-minute selections on iTunes, and some of these were good, and the sound quality seemed good as well. But getting to a more serious lyric - Fightin' Side of me - you almost had to be there in the late 60's when rednecks were terrorizing hippies and the like, and songs like Fightin' Side were perceived as a real threat by dissidents of the time. On this album however, it loses all meaning when it's out of its time slot, which is not just the 60's, but the 9/11 period of mass jingoism as well.

gary o's picture

I love Vince Gill; same goes for Buck and Hag, and am pleased to see this review, all the way over in Australia. I'll be out to get the "album/CD" ASAP.