Merle Haggard

Kern River/Amber Waves of Grain

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This BGO set features remasters from the middle of Merle Haggard's tenure at Epic; both were released in 1985. Kern River is easily the most diverse recording he issued for the label. Though the sad, weary title track is one of the finest country tunes he penned during the 1980s, it's actually an outlier here. There are other ballads, but the emphasis on the material leans more toward uptempo numbers and his particular take on Western swing and jazz, as evidenced by "I Wonder Where I'll Find You Tonight," "The Old Watermill," and a cover of Louis Armstrong's "Big Butter and Egg Man." Amber Waves of Grain is a live date, cut during shows at the Holiday Theater in Merrillville, Indiana and the Bob Devaney Sports Complex in Lincoln, Nebraska. Both shows were tributes to American farmers and all of the album's original royalties were donated to farm-oriented charities and aid organizations. Musically, it falls into the trap of a lot of Haggard's post-1972 concert offerings. It's a mixed, uneven bag. The title track is one of a number of patriotic tunes here, though this is one of his particularly jingoistic ones. To boot, rather than fire up the base, it sounds like an elegy. Other patriotic tunes here include "American Waltz" and "I Wish Things Were Simple Again," which feels like a lackluster sequel to "Are the Good Times Really Over for Good." The band kicks it, though, particularly on the smattering of hits that include fine medleys of "Tulare Dust/Mama Tried," a brief sequel entitled "The Okie from Muskogee's Comin' Home" (a hard-driving country boogie that actually prefaces the original), and "Working Man's Blues/Always Late with Your Kisses."

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