When Merle Haggard entered Britannia Studios in 1981 with producer Lewis Talley, he recorded a boatload of tracks in two days. The first batch ended up on his Epic debut, Big City. The second set of cuts made up the lion's share of his finest moment for the label, in 1982, entitled Going Where the Lonely Go. In fact, all but two songs came from those sessions. For whatever reason, it and the subsequent disc, 1983's fine That's the Way Love Goes, had never been issued on CD before this fabulous two-fer. Haggard wrote over half of Going Where the Lonely Go, the rest comprised of two songs by his then wife, Leona Williams (whom he was splitting with at the time -- hence the overall downer tone of the set); a co-write with Little Jimmy Dickens; Willie Nelson's "Half a Man"; and Jimmy Davis' "Nobody's Darlin' But Mine." But it's Haggard's songs that make this a stellar outing. The title track is a piece of pure country poetry. Over a painfully slow 4/4 time signature fronted by a bassline, adorned by a three-chord pattern, and filled by slippery piano lines, Haggard sings, "Rollin' with the flow/Goin' where the lonely go/Anywhere the lights are low/Goin' where the lonely go/Makin' up things to do/Not runnin' in all directions tryin' to find you/I'm just rollin' with the flow/Goin' where the lonely go." As Haggard gets to the bridge, pedal steel and lead guitar trade lines as strings fall in from the edges and cascade around his gorgeous, bluesy voice. The next track, "Why Am I Drinkin'?," is pure honky tonk blues, full of heartbreak and resignation. "I Won't Give Up My Train," another country ballad, is particularly poignant, as Haggard addresses the metaphor of his life in music via a brakeman who is married and probably won't be for long. You can hear Jimmy Rogers in the grain of his voice, calling from out in the freight yards of history. There's the truly moving "Shopping for Dresses (With No One to Wear Them)," written with Dickens, and "For All I Know," another broken-love song from the other side of love's great divide. Haggard & the Strangers were one of the tightest and most sophisticated bands in country music, inspired by the elaborate arrangements of Bob Wills' band. It's a pity this one didn't get the notice it deserved -- it's a masterpiece. Roy Baker co-produced That's the Way Love Goes with Hag. It's a continuation of the former LP, in that it's bleaker, darker, and more heartbroken, reflecting on the last months of the marriage between Hag and Leona. The title track was written by Lefty Frizzell, one of Haggard's heroes, and he first covered the tune ten years earlier. It was the album's single and earned him his first Grammy for Best Male Country Performance. He also recorded Leona's "Someday When Things Are Good." It was the second single and reached number one in 1984. The album's opener is "What Am I Gonna Do with the Rest of My Life," which is one of the disc's most poignant and bare-truth moments. A modern-day honky tonk ballad, it's followed by another in the stellar "(I'm Gonna Paint Me) A Bed of Roses." The closer is the stellar, late-night barroom blues "I Think I'm Gonna Stay," a look beyond the world that is falling apart around the singer toward another day. Ultimately, while not quite as strong as Going Where the Lonely Go, it's a fine Haggard record, full of pathos, poetry, and low-burning passion even in the darkness. This is as fine a two-fer as Haggard fans are likely to come across.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek