Hag: The Best of Merle Haggard

by: Merle Haggard

There are perhaps as many as a hundred Merle Haggard compilations out there on labels obscure and well-known. Most of them are crap because they present too few of the great songwriter's works and/or do so in a dodgy manner. Hag: The Best of Merle Haggard, issued by Capitol, isn't one of them. In fact, it just may be the best single-disc representation of the man's music out there. It's true: Capitol released the vast majority of the songs that established Haggard as the true poet of the working man and for starters here, there are 26 cuts on this set. The majority of them come from Capitol of course, but they also chart Haggard's singles on labels like MCA and Epic, as well as his later independent material all the way down to his duet with Toby Keith on "She Ain't Hooked on Me No More" from 2005. The sound is phenomenal, and so is the package, with two sets of liner notes by the venerable Joel Selvin and Haggard's Capitol producer Ken Nelson. There's also a blurb form the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir that murdered a few Haggard tunes back in the day, but don't hold that against him. All the hits are here, from "The Bottle Let Me Down" in 1966 to the killer "Workin' Man Blues" in 1969, to 1973's poignant ballad "If We Make It Through December"; from the Jimmy Bowen-produced "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink" in 1980 to his Columbia period, which nailed down the hits "Big City" in 1982 with Lewis Talley and the classic duets with Willie Nelson ("Pancho and Lefty") and Johnny Cash ("I'm Leavin' Now"), to his own "Runaway Mama" and "That's the News," from 2001 and 2003 respectively. Combine that with the Keith duet and you have literally 40 years of music form the man on a single CD. And yeah, the two legendary redneck stompers, "Okie from Muskogee" and "Fightin' Side of Me" are here too because they had to be, but so is "Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde." This is sure to turn anyone who is curious into a Haggard fan. And for those who have everything, this is just a killer mix. Highly recommended. ~ Thom Jurek

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