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Haggard plays bluegrass

Audio review


MERLE HAGGARD, “The Bluegrass Sessions” (McCoury Music) – Merle Haggard first incorporated bluegrass into his sound 40 years ago with his 1967 hit, “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde,” which featured Glen Campbell on banjo.

While honky tonk, Western swing and blues remain his primary touchstones, Haggard again turns to acoustic mountain music for inspiration, presenting 12 new recordings with banjo, fiddle, mandolin, dobro, upright bass and acoustic guitar for “The Bluegrass Sessions.”

At age 70, Haggard’s voice sounds remarkably resonant and expressive, and on new songs like “Pray” and “Holding Things Together,” he shows he’s perceptive as ever at writing about the struggles of working families.

He refashions a couple of his best-known tunes, taking “Big City” for a ride through the country and turning “Mama’s Hungry

Eyes” into a sensitive duet with Alison Krauss. He also salutes a couple of influences with a bluesy Jimmie Rodgers medley and a sweetly swaying take on the Delmore Brothers’ classic, “Blues Stay Away from Me.”

Despite the setting, he doesn’t try to sing in the high-tenor bluegrass style, nor do the songs take on the high-speed vamps that are a keystone of the genre. But the acoustic setting brings out the nuance of Haggard’s familiar voice, highlighting its warmth and emotional resonance. Well past retirement age, he still one of the most vital country singers on record today.

CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: On “Learning to Live with Myself,” Haggard tenderly looks inward at an old outlaw still struggling to find a measure of peace within.

– By MICHAEL McCALL

The Associated Press


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