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Merle Haggard
Hag: The Best Of Merle Haggard
Capitol/ EMI
www.merlehaggard.com


After all these years, and all those collections of Merle Haggard's greatest hits and singles, Capitol has finally done it up right. This package is concise and instantly classic… Just the way that Merle probably likes it. And while the man has recorded a ton of music that many folk will never, ever get to hear due to its not being released on CD or them not wanting to buy all his older records, he is most known for a couple handfuls of great tunes. Hag has them all.

From 1966's traditional country sound of "The Bottle Let Me Down" with its awesome steel playing and honky-tonk lyrics to "She Ain't Hooked No More" a duet with Toby Keith from 2005, Hag shows just what an amazing writer and singer Merle has remained for more than four decades. His music has always been highly personal, his songs embellishing his real-life experience to a poetic high. Songs like "Branded Man" and "Mama Tried" are stories culled from Merle's own life, but the songs have a strength that far outweighs the commonality of his experience. "Workin' Man Blues" features some of the finest guitar playing that the late 60's spawned, as well as laying the groundwork for the direction Haggard's next few songs would take. The down-home redneck Americana of "Okie From Muskogee" (the amazing original album version, rather than the commonly played live version) and "The Fightin' Side Of Me" are somewhat campy, but have a resonance that continues to ring true with the people of America in this day. I've often found myself running through "The Fightin' Side Of Me" over the past few years of this war weary world.

Haggard never stepped far from his roots, and that is shown even in his songs from the 1980's. "I Think I'll Just Stay Here And Drink" could have been lifted from the vinyl-playing AM radio waves of 1964, but like "Big City", the song was a track that kept the spirit of the old school alive in the 80's when country radio was turning to slicker productions and a more pop-oriented sound. The 80's also gave us a revival in outlaw country, with Merle teaming up with Willie Nelson for an amazing version of the Townes Van Zandt classic "Pancho And Lefty"… This is perhaps the quintessential version of the track, and Merle carries the weight of the song almost entirely by himself. Jumping ahead to 2000, w are presented with the Haggard/ Johnny Cash duet "I'm Leaving Now". From one of his great Anti- records albums we have "Runaway Mama", which maintains the same tone as his much older work. The same can be said for "That's The News" and the newest track on the compilation "She Ain't hooked On Me No More".

Whatever else you have to say about Merle Haggard, you cannot dispute that the man has his own voice, an amazing depth to his songwriting, and a sense of who he is himself that can't be shaken by trends in the industry. Merle Haggard has always been Merle Haggard… never to be swayed by what some record label or producer might say they want from him, Haggard has always been true to his own artistic visions, and Hag is a perfect way to hear just that…

So if you don't feel like tracking down the something like 100 records Merle has released over the last forty years, sidle up to the bar and ask for your own copy of Hag: the Best Of Merle Haggard. This is a great jumping-off point for your collection, or a great CD if you only think you need one Haggard record. All of the essential tracks are here, as well as a few tracks you've probably never heard before if you've not been keeping up with Merle for the last decade or so.

-Embo Blake

Track Listing:
1. The Bottle Let Me Down
2. Branded Man
3. Sing Me Back Home
4. The Legend Of Bonnie And Clyde
5. Today I Started Loving You Again
6. Mama Tried
7. I'm Bringing Home Good News
8. I Take A Lot Of Pride In What I Am
9. Hungry Eyes
10. Workin' Man Blues
11. Silver Wings
12. Okie From Muskogee
13. The Fightin' Side Of Me
14. Someday We'll Look Back
15. If We Make It Through December
16. Things Aren't Funny Anymore
17. Honky Tonk Night Time Man
18. Old Man From The Mountain
19. Living With The Shades Pulled Down
20. I Think I'll Just Stay Here And Drink
21. Big City
22. Pancho And Lefty - with Willie Nelson
23. I'm Leaving Now - with Johnny Cash
24. Runaway Mama
25. That's The News
26. She Ain't Hooked On Me No More - with Toby Keith


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