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Album review: Merle Haggard's 'Working in Tennessee'

October 4, 2011 |  6:21 am

Album review: Merle Haggard's 'Working in Tennessee'

Merle Haggard may be 74 but he sounds utterly playful in the title track of his new album, one of his strongest collections in a couple of decades.

“What I Hate” is a powerful mission statement from a man who’s long served as a voice of conscience in modern society, detailing the failings and the successes he sees when he scours the landscape. “Under the Bridge” again taps his compassion for the downtrodden — in this case, the homeless — who’ve always been close to his heart: “Under the bridge / I can make believe I’m living in a castle.”

He’s also still one of country’s great curmudgeons in the lighthearted “Too Much Boogie Woogie,” which takes the reverse tack of so many modern-day singers who name-check the genre’s greats without actually connecting with the spirit of their artistry. Instead, Haggard — as one of the periodic recipients of such lip service — gives shout-outs to musical descendants including Marty Stuart and Emmylou Harris, whom he credits with carrying the country torch forward.

A new version of his classic “Workin’ Man Blues” brings Willie Nelson and Haggards son Ben along for the ride, and his wife, Theresa, also steps into the spotlight for a duet on the Lee Hazlewood-Nancy Sinatra/Johnny-and-June hit “Jackson.” His voice, as pliant and evocative as ever, gives nary a hint of the passing decades.

Merle Haggard
“Working in Tennessee”
(Vanguard)
Three stars (Out of four)

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— Randy Lewis

 

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