Merle Haggard

A Working Man Can't Get Nowhere Today

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One can quibble about packaging and marketing decisions regarding this music, but not the music itself. Sure, it is a little phony to see Merle Haggard dressed up like a hard-hat worker on the front, and making a joke about him leaving his lunchbox behind on the back certainly will bring to mind the line about someone being a couple of sandwiches short of a box lunch. And then there's the stupid note about the problems of the working man signed by "the girls at the office." The country fan would have been much better served by a list of the pickers on the album, because the playing is simply impeccable. This is one of this country legend's well thought-out combinations of hardcore traditional material from Hank Williams and the Delmore Brothers, combined with his own brilliant songwriting from some of his tried and true perspectives, such as the lonely loser of "The Running Kind" or the bittersweet, moderate beer drinking narrator of the title tune. Riding high on the success of the tongue-in-cheek "Okie From Muskogee," Haggard appears comfortable in his role as a philosopher, going way out on a limb on "I'm a White Boy," but, suprisingly enough, the limb doesn't break and he is home free. The hard to count highlights include the charming tribute to Lefty Frizzell, made up almost entirely of lines from his songs, "Blues for Lefty." Backup is simply credited to the Strangers, and it sounds like a well-recorded distillation of one of their typical sets, plenty of twangy picking with a bit of jazzy horns thrown in. There's a cliche about music being so good it goes by really quickly, but in this case not only sheer genius but a total running length of about 24 minutes contribute to this phenomenon.

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