Merle Haggard

My Love Affair With Trains/The Roots of My Raising

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This import BGO two-fer combines Merle Haggard's last two records for Capitol, both of them from 1976. My Love Affair With Trains harkens back to Haggard's tribute album to Jimmie Rodgers in spirit. It is narrated between cuts, offering different facts, from the history of the railroads to Haggard's personal observations. While he only contributes one original to the set ("No More Trains to Ride"), it nonetheless bears a deeply personal and heartfelt stamp with cuts by Mark Yeary, the title by Dolly Parton, Dave Kirby, and Red Lane. Haggard weaves an iconographic history of the rails -- from past to present to uncertain future -- seamlessly and with great taste. Likewise, The Roots of My Raising is also a deep and moving personal statement. Again, there is only one original on the set ("Am I Standing in Your Way"), but it is no less symbolic an album than My Love Affair With Trains. The Roots of My Raising garnered Haggard two number one singles in the title track and Cindy Walker's classic "Cherokee Maiden," which had been a hit for Bob Wills in 1941 -- Haggard's version uses the same melody. These "roots" Haggard is referring to are loose and slippery; some of them are stylistic and musical roots, hence Jimmie Rodgers' "Delta Blues" and "Gamblin' Polka Dot Blues" as well as Lefty Frizzell's "I Never Go Around Mirrors," while others seem episodically biographical, such as Dave Kirby's "Walk on the Outside," Norm Hamlet's "The Waltz You Saved for Me," and the mythical but symbolic "What Have You Got Planned Tonight Diana?" Together they mark an excellent bookend to the Capitol period, but both albums stand up just as well on their own.

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