I’m embarrassed to state this, but I am a newcomer to Merle Haggard. It is true, so I can’t deny it. There is a lot of labeling in our little genre of country music. We have traditional country, rock country, alt country, Americana, bluegrass, pop-country, outlaw country, cross over country and well, the list goes on.
I think, but perhaps not accurately, that the left end of the spectrum is ‘pop-country’ or ‘that’s not country music, that’s pop music, so why the hell is [insert artist name] even claiming to be country”. Then the right end of the spectrum is ‘three chords and the truth country', outlaw country, real country, and even Hag would be proud to call that [insert artist name] country” type of country music. Or perhaps they are flip flopped. Either way, someone, somewhere, will judge your ‘legitimacy’ as a country music aficionado by where you fall on this spectrum. I’m ashamed that it took me this long to find Merle Haggard. But, now that I'm here, I’m home for good.
Live and Love Always is my absolute favorite track. Theresa Haggard sings on it with her husband and their voices are a natural fit. It reminds me of Johnny and June singing Jackson and Loretta and Conway singing Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man. Simple and pure, it stands on its own like good country music of days gone by. A man and his guitar, it’s all that is needed.
The entire album reflects where the artist is at this point in his life. He makes it easy to feel his discontent, but he is not the fightin’ young man of the past. I’ve Seen It Go Away has the somber tone that only comes from a life well lived and the wisdom of age. But like a wonderful, rich, deep red wine becomes better over time, the songs about love and relationships reflect the stability and depth that come from a 16+ year marriage. He wraps it all up, in true Hag style, in the tune I Am What I Am. He is a man that has always taken responsibility for his own actions whether good or bad. That is a character trait that is a rare find these days.
Simple and pure, it’s exactly what you would want and wish for in a new Merle Haggard release. He’s not filled with the raw pain like the late Johnny Cash's release of Hurt. Hag is what he has always been; he is just a man with a guitar. I Am What I Am is perfect in every way.
Purchase I Am What I Am from Amazon or Download the MP3 version from iTunes.
Judy Core is the author of Good Music Is Better Than Good Sex - My Search For The Old Blue Chair. For more information about Judy and her book, go to GoodMusicIsBetterThanSex.com.
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