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The sound of Bakersfield honky tonk—with its punchy Telecaster twang, strong backbeat, and stripped-down instrumentation—permeates V, Kenny Vaughan’s debut solo album. One of Nashville’s most celebrated session guitarists, Vaughan has added his snappy lines to records by Lucinda Williams, Rodney Crowell, Tim O’Brien, Marshall Chapman, the Sweethearts of the Rodeo, and dozens of other country and Americana artists. Fans of Vaughan’s vibey picking have been waiting for years for him to step out on his own.
For the last decade, Vaughan has played with Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, and the road-hardened band backs Vaughan on all but one of the album’s tracks. It’s a treat to hear Vaughan and Stuart trade snarling Tele licks, which Vaughan says they played through silverface Princetons. If you can imagine Don Rich and Clarence White dueling in the studio, you have a pretty good idea of what’s in store on V. In fact, Stuart owns White’s original B-bender Tele and plays the bejesus out of it on “Country Music Got a Hold on Me” and “Stay Outta My Dreams,” two songs that pay homage to Buck Owens and the Buckaroos.
But V isn’t all Bakersfield: In two instrumentals, “Mysterium” and “Minuit Sur La Plage,” Vaughan salutes Duane Eddy and Hank Marvin, and he even dips into B.B. King’s bag of tricks in “Okolona Tennessee.” Guitar-centric solo albums can sound so dang serious, but happily this is not the case with V, which delivers superb picking in the context of fun songs, toe-tapping grooves, and unapologetically retro tones. If whining Teles and the occasional thwack of flatwounds run through slapback echo rock your world, you’re in for a treat.
Must-hear-track: “Country Music Got a Hold on Me”