Rated | Alphabetical
| Highest Rated 2006
The House That Merle Built
Merle Haggard: Roots, Volume 1
The liner notes of Merle Haggard's new release proudly list the production
credit "Recorded at Merle Haggard's Living Room (no overdubs)". In a digital
age, where slick studio wizardry is the norm, such a claim stands out like a
defiant statement of purpose, an invitation to a time when roots music was born
on back porches, or in roadside motel rooms, the promise of something raw and
Traditional country performers/songwriters Lefty Frizzell, Hank Thompson, and
the immortal Hank Williams, Sr., are all represented here, with Lefty garnering
the lion's share of the credits, thanks primarily to the participation of
longtime Frizzell guitarist Norm Stephens. In Stephens, Haggard has found a
veteran collaborator, a man who has spent years traversing the backroads of America,
playing the crowded barrooms and larger dance halls during honky-tonk's golden
age of the 1950s. Haggard’s wife, Theresa, and his backing band, the Strangers,
capably round out the impressive list of players.
If this had been nothing more than a rote collection of covers (it also
contains three Haggard originals), Roots, Volume 1, would have been a
satisfactory, but by no means essential, addition to the honky-tonk canon. What
elevates the record above the norm is the feeling with which these classic songs
are interpreted. Haggard perfectly captures an aggrieved sense of
resignation on "Always Late With Your Kisses", nicely complimented by the
craftsmanship of Stephens' guitar picking. "More Than My Old Guitar", a Haggard
original, and Frizzell's "If You've Got the Money", exhibit precise, expertly
managed guitar work that enhances Merle's world-weary vocals, a plaintive, nasally
near-yodel that earnestly brings the compositions to life.
The main flaw with the collection is its length -- or lack thereof. Clocking in at
just over thirty minutes, the twelve cuts pass far too quickly. Given the
presumptuous Volume 1 appended to the title, one wonders if there was enough
material for a second collection, and, if so, why it wasn’t included, when one
CD could have easily accommodated double the amount offered here.
In the final assessment, such concerns are trivial, however, when compared to
the wonderful sounds of old style country captured so naturally here. In that regard, Haggard has delivered a true
gem, certainly one of the year's finest releases.
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