NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Vince Gill, country music's modern ambassador, and Paul Franklin, Nashville's most sought after steel guitar player, are bringing the twang back to country with a new collection of songs from the Bakersfield era.
The two collaborated on their new album "Bakersfield," out Tuesday, to update the California brand of country that Buck Owens and Merle Haggard popularized in the 1960s. The music took them back to when they first learned to play. The Bakersfield sound coming out of beer joints and clubs with its crying pedal steels and biting electric guitars challenged Nashville's country music, which relied more on hollow-bodied guitars and pop music conventions.
"It goes right to our roots, where we both started as kids," said Franklin, who is the most recorded pedal steel session player in Nashville over the last 25 years. "And at the time we were playing, this was the hottest stuff in America. If you turned on the radio it was Buck and Merle. So it seemed like that was the place to go."
Gill and Franklin play together regularly as a part of The Time Jumpers, a super group of Nashville musicians that plays western swing and traditional country. It was those performances that led them to consider teaming up on an album focused on the instruments that defined the West Coast sound.
"I think that the most interesting element of this record is the conversation between the steel guitar and the Fender telecaster," said Gill, the Grammy Award-winning artist who has appeared on more than 400 albums. "A majority of those songs either have steel solos split with the electric guitar or the fills trade and change. That's really the essence of the record."
With the help of some of their Time Jumpers bandmates and other Nashville musicians, the songs were tracked in Gill's home studio in just a couple of days. The album switches back and forth between Haggard and Owens, with shuffles Owens favored like "Together Again" and the ballads and prison songs Haggard was known for like "Holding Things Together."
Gill and Franklin didn't see a point in making copies of the original recordings. They lengthened the solos to emphasize the instruments and Gill adjusted his vocals because despite his wide range, he couldn't quite reach the low growls of Haggard's voice. They hope the album will reintroduce these timeless songs and sounds to today's country music fans.
"You can feel that this record is steeped in 1961, but it is played by two guys in 2013," Gill said. "It sounds like both. That's hopefully a great accomplishment."
Follow AP writer Kristin M. Hall: http://twitter.com/kmhall.