Merle Haggard

Legends of American Music: The Original Outlaw

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A number of Merle Haggard box sets preceded this one to fruition, among them 1996's four-disc,100-track Down Every Road, as comprehensive and essential a collection of country music as you're ever likely to hear. At three discs and 60 tracks, Time Life's Legends of American Music: The Original Outlaw admittedly doesn't offer as much Hag, but in its own way it's just as valuable as the earlier release, and might be preferable for those who don't want their Hag spread quite so thin but who would still like a bit more than the 40 tracks offered by Razor & Tie's 1995, 40-track The Lonesome Fugitive: The Merle Haggard Anthology (1963-1977). Like Down Every Road, The Original Outlaw takes a look not only at the biggest hits of Haggard's career, although those are all of course accounted for. It launches with two pre-fame singles Haggard cut for the small Tally label in 1964-1965, before signing to Capitol, "Sing a Sad Song" and "(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers." From there it devotes roughly half of its contents to those Capitol sides before moving on to Haggard's MCA output of the late '70s and his recordings for Epic, Anti and his own Hag Records in the subsequent decades. All that's absent -- and no one will really miss it -- is some representation of Haggard's early-'90s stint with Curb, a period that produced no memorable hits whose omission would cause a red flag to be raised only by completists. Haggard's post-Capitol recordings would, for any other artist, still amount to a body of work to be praised and envied: MCA and Epic singles such as "Big City," "Pancho and Lefty" (with Willie Nelson) and "Yesterday's Wine" (with George Jones) are formidable, and the samplings of his rootsy 21st century releases should send those unfamiliar with them scurrying to catch up with what Haggard's been up to, as they've all been excellent additions to his canon. In the end, though, it'll still be those Capitol recordings that will define Merle Haggard and, to some extent, the direction in which country music turned once he arrived -- even the most die-hard fan will never tire of hearing that string of more than 20 number one hits Haggard gave the label. All of them are here -- the landmarks like "Okie from Muskogee," "Working Man's Blues," "The Fightin' Side of Me," "Mama Tried," "Daddy Frank," "If We Make It Through December" -- as well as a couple that "only" scraped into the Top Five: "I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am" and "Someday We'll Look Back." Arranged in rough, but not strict, chronological order, the set amply demonstrates Hag's evolution as both songwriter and interpreter of those songs, and restates the case for him as one of country music's greatest contributions to the American musical lexicon -- not that that wasn't obvious already.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
4 2:55
5 3:23
6 2:50
7 3:08
8 2:24
9 2:50
10 2:06
11 2:14
12 2:49
13 2:36
14 3:30
15 2:44
16 2:32
17 3:11
19 2:12

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:54
2 2:50
3 2:41
4 2:54
5 2:43
6 2:21
7 2:43
8 2:16
9 3:08
11 3:14
13 3:13
14 3:08
16 2:47
17 2:54
18 4:32
blue highlight denotes track pick