This two-fer reissue from the British Beat Goes On label features two albums Merle Haggard cut during his long tenure with Capitol Records, and on the surface the two sets wouldn't seem to have a lot in common. A Portrait of Merle Haggard was cut in 1969 when Hag was at the very peak of his abilities, and features three classic singles, "Workin' Man's Blues," "Silver Wings," and "Mama's Hungry Eyes." Meanwhile, Keep Movin' On was released six years later, is pegged on Hag's theme song for the television series Movin' On, and is filled out with lesser-known material. The ten cuts from A Portrait of Merle Haggard lead off the disc and set the bar quite high; along with the three Hag landmarks already cited, the set includes a superb cover of George Jones' "She Thinks I Still Care" and some excellent honky tonk weepers in "I Die Ten Thousand Times a Day" and "Who Do I Know in Dallas." The production and arrangements are spare and effective, with even the occasional string charts fitting the album's spare and elemental mood. The progress of six years can certainly be heard on tracks 11 though 21, which were originally released as Keep Movin' On; the sound is a good bit slicker, the mood isn't as tough, and there are a lot more songs about love than about living on the wrong side of the law. In short, the album is good Hag but not great Hag, though he's in fine voice throughout, and "Kentucky Gambler," "A Man's Gotta Give Up a Lot," and "Life's Like Poetry" show his songwriting chops were still in good shape. Think of the first album as the main attraction, and the second as a bonus (which most buyers will feel entitled to, since the two sets together play out in less than an hour).
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming