Still basking in the glow of Merle Haggard

I’m still basking in the glow of a very special live show a little over a week ago pairing Merle Haggard with Neko Case. Neko opened with a gorgeous set that leaned hard on torchy ballads. Her powerful vocals were well-received by the crowd, and no doubt she converted more than a few folks who were there into Neko fans.

As for Merle, he’s simply one of the true legends of American music. While his popular image can sometimes veer into caricature, he’s a complex artist and a wily fellow that refuses to be pinned down. He’s a western swing bandleader, and also a folksinger. He’s an outlaw country rebel and a jazz balladeer. He’s a down-to-earth bluesman and a barroom honky tonker. He’s a guitarist, a fiddler and simply the finest singer-songwriter country music has ever known. Here’s a neat video of Merle performing “Sing Me Back Home” with Johnny Cash…

He showed all those sides and more at the Paramount with a set that ranged from Hag classics, some lesser-known gems and some newer songs to a variety of covers from Bob Wills and Jimmie Rodgers to the old pop chestnut “As Times Goes By.” He even debuted a playful new political song celebrating Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy while declining to play the long-time crowd favorite “Okie from Muskogee,” which goes to show how much Hag’s political views have evolved through the years…

Haggard’s voice has also changed through the years, developing a warm, burnished tone reminiscent of his idol Lefty Frizzell. Like Lefty, he’s a crafty, deeply soulful singer who relies less on power and more on subtlety to get a song across, shading and bending notes to evoke a wide range of emotions, and while he may be pushing 70, no country singer around nowadays can match his artistry. There’s still only one Hag – see him while you can.

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One Comment

  1. Posted March 9, 2007 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    When I wrote this tribute to Merle Haggard and to the song, The Fightin’ Side of Me, I really believed:

    Merle Hasn’t Lost His Fightin’ Side
    Dr. BLT
    words and music by Dr. BLT (c)2007

    So did the producer of this song, 20-year member of Merle Haggard’s band, The Strangers, co-writer, and Merle’s right hand man, Mark Yeary.

    Lately I’ve had second thoughts, not about his deft skill as an artist, but about his loyalty to the principles he once held so dear. That’s why I’m working on a new song, Merle, What Happened to Your Fightin’ Side, and a song to counter Merle’s tribute to Hillary, entitled The Other Side of Hillary. Watch and listen for those songs. I may just end up stirring something up.

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