Down Every Road

by: Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard is a rarity: a complex artist whose rich scope can accurately be summarized through singles, but who has far more great material than can be fit on one or two discs. Which, of course, makes him the perfect candidate for a box set, and Capitol released the first comprehensive Hag retrospective in 1996 with the four-disc set Down Every Road. Since Haggard has such a rich, consistent body of his work -- the best of his MCA and Epic periods, two eras that are covered here, hold their own next to his seminal Capitol material -- even four discs leave behind many a great song, yet only those who already own all the albums would argue about omissions, because this offers a generous 100 songs, spanning from his earliest work for Talley in the early '60s to his Epic sides of the late '80s, containing all of his big hits and an expert selection of album tracks, such as "Tulare Dust," "Holding Things Together," and "Living With the Shades Pulled Down," that reveal the depth of his music. This is a body of work with few peers in all of popular music -- the variety of styles and sounds, his ease on freewheeling Western swing and plaintive ballads, his inventive, nuanced originals and expert ear for material, his supple voice and underrated guitar playing, and the support from his brilliant band, the Strangers, all add up to one of the greatest catalogs in 20th century music. And while you can get the basics from Razor & Tie's excellent double-disc set The Lonesome Fugitive, only Down Every Road captures the full extent of his gifts, in a way that is compulsively listenable as well. It's not just the perfect Merle Haggard box set, it's one of the greatest box sets ever released as well, since it truly presents all sides of its subject, while offering nothing but sheer pleasure in terms of mere listening. Plus, this is the only place to find some of these great songs, including the aforementioned trio of album tracks, on CD, which makes it necessary for those who already own the albums. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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