Thursday, June 24, 2010

Merle Haggard -- I Am What I Am

I Am What I Am

I’ve always felt that Merle Haggard is one of the all-time great and definitive artists in country music. Real country music that is – not the homogenized, kinda-twangy, committee-written, focus group-approved stuff that Nashville major labels and country radio have specialized in for years, if not decades.

Without major label constraints and hit single pressure, Haggard – like such peers as Willie Nelson (most of the time) and the late Johnny Cash – is free to be who he is as an authentic, roots-oriented, jazz-inflected country singer and songwriter. “I am what I am” he tells us in the title track to this album, the latest in a string of several fine albums he’s released over the past 10 years or so, and that’s just fine with me. He-what-he-is retains the authenticity that I want to hear in a singer and songwriter.

Among my favourites of these 12 songs are “Oil Tanker Train,” a sweet, childhood reminiscence about a train – carrying a cargo of oil – that would pass by his childhood home, “Live and Love Always,” a nifty, western swing and Dixieland duet with wife Theresa Haggard, and “Mexican Bands,” his gringo’s tribute to Mexican music (and food).

Haggard receives able back-up throughout from the Strangers, his longtime band, which is supplemented judiciously by just a few other musicians. The arrangements remain faithful to his classic sound.

--Mike Regenstreif

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